Bestselling author Maeve Binchy is the undisputed modern-day mother of Irish fiction. In her latest novel, HEART AND SOUL, she once again taps into the very soul of the Irish people, portraying in her characters their often irreverent wit, tough stoic exteriors and soft sensitivities.
HEART AND SOUL opens with a prologue describing the establishment of a new heart clinic. Binchy writes of the clinic's board members: "(they) had been foolishly influenced by some statistic recently published that seemed to prove the Irish had more than their fair share of heart failure." This is the perfect metaphor for a tale about love, of all varieties, lost and found.
Clara Casey, the head of the underfunded clinic, sets about to create a state-of-the-art clinic despite not really wanting the job. Still trying to find herself after a three-year separation from a philandering husband, she throws herself into the task, disregarding the hospital administrators at every juncture. She gathers around her a patchwork crowd of characters, including nurses, a young doctor, an aide, a security guard and an assistant. They are a motley group that quickly forms a well-oiled machine. And what unfolds in HEART AND SOUL are their stories. The center Clara first described as "the place without a soul" evolves into a place not only with soul but with lots of love.
Declan, a doctor, and Fiona, a nurse, find each other --- and, in the process, also find love. Hilary struggles with how to care for an aging and ailing mother who helped her raise her son. Ania suffers heartache over a married man who led her on but finds someone new at the hospital. And there are the patients themselves, who ease their way into the reader's heart with their oh-so-human quirks, like Judy and her dogs, which she considers to be her loves. And finally there's Clara herself, who spent years "hiding her feelings and disguising her reactions."
The clinic has curative powers, for sure. Hearts are restored to good health, physically and emotionally. In the end, describing the clinic and the romances that developed, Clara jokingly says, "[W]e can say the objectives have all been achieved." And Binchy's objective --- another great story of the endurance of the Irish people --- is achieved as well, with warmth and spirit, and heart and soul.
Reviewed by Roberta O’Hara on January 22, 2011
Heart and Soul