Green Giants is my feature where I share some of my favourite books by Irish Authors. I’m passionate about Irish Authors, there is a great and exciting mix of books to choose from, hopefully you will find something new to try.Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
Genres: Chick Lit
Buy on Amazon
Do you have a favourite pair of old jeans? Worn to death, washed to that perfect comfortable feel, not the latest edgy trendy cut and colour but still a firm favourite. They are a perfect fit and make you feel good. Ones you pull out and wear time after time? Circle of Friends is the book equivalent of those jeans for me. Around forever, radiating warmth, full of humour and with a gossipy, uplifting plot. Yes, it’s another of my comfort books.
Big hearted, generous Benny is the main character. From a child, she has been heavy or as others non too delicately put it – a lump of a child, a heifer, large and square. On her 10th birthday, she is expecting a princess party dress to transform her but instead she gets a ‘sturdy, hard wearing outfit’ that her parents have finished off with matching shoes and handbag. Benny never tells them that this broke her heart instead she smiles through the pain and pretends excitement.
This book focuses on Benny and best friend Eve leaving their small, country town to attend college in Dublin. Benny is vibrant, charismatic, funny and tender hearted. In Dublin, Benny and Eve find new battles to be fought, new friends to be made as they struggle to make their way in a rapidly changing Ireland. On their college menu is fun and frolics and a side order of backstabbing .
The first line draws me in :
“The kitchen was full of the smells of baking”
This sounds like my home growing up where my mother was forever baking for all of us. It feels nostalgic and familiar. From that first line to the last line, I’m wrapped up in a rosy glow.
The book is set in the 1950’s but despite the older setting, it’s very much a case that the problems faced by college going folks never changes. I faced the challenges in the 90s that Benny faced in the 50’s. I have no doubt the themes of friendship, loyalty, the difference in values and attitudes between parents and teenagers and issues over image are timeless and will continue to have meaning to new generations of readers.
The setting is so authentic, it catches an Ireland that is long gone but captured forever within the pages of Maeve Binchy’s books. A time when church had as much importance as the government. Communities where everyone knew you and all your business. If you coughed in your bedroom in privacy, the next day half the town would ask you how you chest infection was and remind you that lung problems run in your family and to make sure and look after it! A time when the younger generation were pulling the older generation kicking and screaming into the ‘racier’ 1950’s. Where a new jukebox in town caused uproar and new fashions such as miniskirts scandalised the more conservative.
The book has a huge cast of great characters. All of them, full of life and fleshed out with remarkable detail. However, it’s Benny that won my heart. I was overweight when I was younger too and I can identify with the trouble this caused her. I had lost weight by the time I was college age but I know how it can eat away at you and destroy your confidence.
“He drew her a little closer which was great except that she feared the place he had his hand on her back was just the part where the heavy-duty bra ended and there was a small roll of flesh. God suppose he held that bit of her – it would be like a lifebelt. How could she get him to move his hand up her back? How? These were things you needed to know in life, rather than what was set out in a syllabus for you.”
This book makes me smile and I’m always rooting for Benny with her heart of gold. For a while she lives her fairy tale but unlike a fairy tale this one does not end happily ever after. Something I really appreciated about this book, it was realistic but still ended on an optimistic but not ridiculous note. Until they made a movie and changed the ending. Why? WHY? It made me so mad. Skip the movie, read the book!
Who should read Circle of Friends?
Highly recommended to all who like character driven books, books with a strong sense of place with a heart warming and uplifting vibe. There is a reason Maeve Binchy sold more than 40 million copies of her books and if you have never read one, then this would be a good one to try