Monday, March 20, 2023

Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy #ReadingIreland2023

Title: Heart and Soul
Author: Maeve Binchy
Narrator: Sile Bermingham
Publication: Random House, Audio, 2008
Genre: Fiction
Setting: Ireland
Description: Dr. Clara Casey had been hoping for a different job but instead finds herself managing a new Heart Clinic attached to St. Brigid’s Hospital in Dublin. She has plenty of stress at home dealing with two high-maintenance daughters and the husband she kicked out for cheating years ago, so puts all her energy into the clinic. At the clinic, she has to hire all the staff, design and furnish the space, and fight the hospital’s annoying controller who administers the funds. Clara assembles a varied team that includes two nurses, a heart specialist just out of medical school, an office manager, a nutritionist, a physical therapist, a security guard, and Ania, a young Polish immigrant, anxious to send money home to her seamstress mother. As the clinic staff become friendly, their circle expands and some of the characters from previous Binchy books make peripheral appearances. Clara only agreed to manage the clinic for a year but once she has made it an essential part of the community and her own life, can she bear to leave it?

My Impression: I have been a fan of Maeve Binchy’s books since my mother bought Light a Penny Candle for my aunt Justine when it was first published in the US. I think we both read it before she wrapped it and mailed it to New York. After Binchy died in 2012, I regretted the books she would not write but forgot there were several I had never read, so I am glad this caught my eye at the library. This was a delightful book full of well-developed characters who are genuinely interested in and supportive of each others’ lives. In particular, Ania, fleeing from a faithless lover in Poland and trying to make a life for herself in Dublin, is grateful when Clare finds her a job at the clinic. She is the moral compass of the story whose industry and gratitude make others more grateful for what they have. Ania quickly becomes part of the community the clinic serves:
And soon the letters Ania wrote to her mother were more about people than about the great wealth and glitter of a capital city. She was no more on the outside looking in; she was part of it all now. She wrote how she had helped Judy Murphy to wash her funny Jack Russell dogs, how she had met a great Polish priest called Father Tomasz, who had invited them all to have a picnic at a shrine to St. Ann in Rossmore. She wrote about Dr. Declan and his terrible accident and how he was now back at work again.
Binchy shows how immigrants to Ireland are not always welcomed although they seem to be taking the jobs disdained by others.  Ania is treated contemptuously by the wife of a clinic patient who tells her to go wash dishes after Ania is invited to a party in her home.
My favorite character is Clara, who is a successful cardiologist but not successful (or connected?) enough to get the big job at the hospital, a disappointing former husband, and two self-absorbed daughters. When she starts dating an eligible widower, it seems like one of the suitable romances Binchy provides for her characters, but it turns out Clara is not going to settle for friendship rather than passion. I enjoyed how Clara and her office manager, Hilary, plot to fix up their children by pretending they have drunk too much to drive home from a clinic gala event (and it works). A Q&A with Binchy on her website (maintained by her agent) reveals she got a lot of letters about the ending of this book. At the wedding reception for two of the clinic staff, Clara is asked to dance by Frank, her financial nemesis from the hospital, who, it is clear, has come to admire her. This is a great way to end the book, concluding with the two characters she began with, and encouraging readers to wonder if opinionated Frank can possibly show hidden depths and become the zing zing in Clara’s life. I hadn’t thought about this before, but if the last thing a reader does as she closes a book is to contemplate what will happen next, the author has certainly succeeded. Can you think of other books where this happened? One that comes to my mind is Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, part of her amusing Jackson Brodie series. The phone is ringing as the book ends, and the reader sees the caller but does not know if Jackson will answer it.

Source: Library. This review is for Reading Ireland 2023 hosted by Cathy at 746 Books.


Nan said...

Wonderful post!
I had a great time years ago reading Maeve Binchy books. My write-up of this book kind of explains the whole thing.
Just recently I was thinking of going through them again. I like the later ones better than the early ones.
Speaking of prejudice, I've heard about anti-immigration feelings in Ireland now.

CLM said...

It is easy to forget how delightful most of her books are because they also function as comfort reads so perhaps do not get the critical acclaim of a literary novel or clever thriller. My sister used to buy each new book for her mother-in-law and once went to hear her speak in NYC. I don't remember if I was with her or just enjoyed this story but someone asked her about the movie of Circle of Friends. She told the story that she was invited to spend a day watching the filming and got picked up at the train station by some young production assistant, who said, "Ms. Binchy, you picked a good day to come, they're filming the big sex scene!" and she automatically replied, "Oh, lovely!" before she remembered there really weren't any major sex scenes in that book!

Lisa of Hopewell said...

Good review. I've read and enjoyed most of her books. They were something I looked forward to about every year.