Maeve Binchy is one of those writers who has such a loyal following that she has to man her own website. After her book TARA ROAD became an Oprah selection, she earned the love in the United States that she has experienced from readers around the world. Her latest novel, SCARLET FEATHER, is a delightful story about two sides of a mixed-up family and the brave, stalwart, and lovely woman with an enterprising dream caught in the middle of it all.
Family and familial obligations and their subsequent complications are Binchy's favorite topics next to love, and they all figure prominently in this story. It is New Year's Eve in Dublin, and we meet the key players (of whom there are many) of this drama as they prepare for their big night. There is Cathy, the erstwhile catering company hopeful who, with the help of her well-to-do husband Neil, has landed a gig throwing a party for his bigwig parents, the look-down-their-noses Mitchells. There is her company partner, Tom, whose beautiful waitress/model wannabe girlfriend is hoping she'll be noticed at a friend's studio on their night out on the town. There is Jonathan, the Nigerian refugee whom socialist lawyer Neil is working to help remain in Ireland. And we can't forget Neil's silly cousin Walter, whose younger brother and sister end up crashing the Mitchells's party because their mom is so over the deep end that she never leaves her room. And Cathy's parents, especially her mom Lizzie Scarlet (the well-meaning maid to the Mitchells), prepare for a quiet night at the pub. Regardless of the desires and expectations each has for the coming year, not one of the characters could possibly know what life really has in store for them.
Yes, it's a big cast, and somehow the premise sounds like a novelistic version of "Dynasty" or some American soap opera (or the British import "East Enders"). But Binchy's light and breezy style at once assimilates huge amounts of material and makes each character easily recognizable and easy to follow. Their exploits bring their paths together in all sorts of kooky ways --- and devastating ways as well. Binchy manages to eek out every good and bad life experience and command it over her SCARLET FEATHER universe without seeming forced and melodramatic. These are people you can really care about.
Having read little of her widely available library of work, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I latched onto the characters in SCARLET FEATHER, Cathy in particular, and how caught up I became in their everyday exploits. It is a fast and compelling read --- exciting, emotional, funny, and all those things that life can be. Binchy obviously strikes again!
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on February 28, 2001