Rated Reads

Whitethorn Woods

by Maeve Binchy

Rated: Mild

In a very generalized way, Maeve Binchy’s novels tend to be either delightful or a bit depressing. Oprah, naturally, chose one of the more “depressing” ones (well, in my view, at least), Tara Road, for her book club. She could have chosen Circle of Friends, too, for that matter.

The books also tend to be either straight novels or vignettes about different characters all woven loosely together under one theme. Tara Road was the former.

Whitethorn Woods is the vignette-style Binchy, a collection of stories about characters who are somehow tied to a small town in Ireland called Rossmore and a well in the woods dedicated to St. Ann where people from all over come to pray for husbands, babies, or any kind of need.

It’s also one of the more delightful books.

St. Ann’s Well stands in Whitethorn Woods, and its continued existence is endangered by the possibility of a bypass road being built right through it. Some residents of Rossmore are eager for the road to be built, to reduce the traffic coming through the town; others are up in arms about it — because it would destroy a shrine to a saint they believe has answered their prayers.

The characters of Whitethorn Woods are a varied group — a crotchety old-fashioned doctor who denies himself happiness and stands against progress; a jilted lover who arranges the death by car crash of her lover’s new girlfriend; an older single woman who goes on a holiday truly intended for young singles and ends up finding love and friendship beyond what she would have expected; a naïve, innocent man who is seen as “not the sharpest knife in the drawer” by most around him but manages to save the day, and a priest who ties the story together.

Binchy has a wonderful, irresistibly likable style. Her books are full of quirky but real people, just working day by day to get by, like the rest of us. She allows us glimpses into their lives that are sweet, heartwarming, funny, sometimes tragic or even a bit jarring. Picking up Whitethorn Woods is akin to taking a pleasant stroll through a pretty countryside in the late hours of the afternoon, a relaxing, enjoyable read.

Rated: Mild, for about five or six uses of language. Mere references to sex but no details.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • Whitethorn Woods
  • by Maeve Binchy
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: