With the rain coming down and the fog nestling in and between the trees, the arrival of A WEEK IN WINTER by Maeve Binchy was just the right book to read. It was a perfect time to have a cup of tea, sit in my favorite chair, and begin the last novel with the late, gifted Irish storyteller. In true Maeve Binchy style, this story is set on the western Irish coast in a small town called Stoneybridge, where everyone knows each other and their family history.
Geraldine Ryan (called “Chicky” by everyone) falls in love with Walter Starr, a young American tourist. When he invites her back to America with him without the offer of marriage or an engagement, Chicky decides to go, despite her father’s threats that she will not be welcome back into the family home. Chicky and Walter move to New York City and live a bohemian lifestyle. She gets a job at a local diner, while he leaves law school and finds a job but soon quits --- and separates from her within a year.
"Maeve Binchy again has created a sense of place, with each character having his or her own unique part of the overall story and a feeling of coming home to Ireland.... She is a storyteller who will not be forgotten."
But Chicky, who has kept in touch with her family and friends, has been writing to them about a fantasy life in New York filled with plays, art galleries and parties. She even includes a tale of her marriage to Walter in a civil ceremony. When Walter leaves her, Chicky knows she can’t go home and takes a new job at a boarding house where she also lives.
Mrs. Cassidy, the woman who runs Select Accommodation, takes Chicky under her wing, tells her how to get a green card, and encourages her to take adult education classes. She even learns to be a splendid patisserie chef. Five years after leaving, Mrs. Cassidy suggests that Chicky go to Ireland for a visit. She concocts a story for her family about Walter and decides to make the trip home.
Life has gone on for her family in Stoneybridge, and her visit works out better than expected. For the next 20 years, Chicky returns to Ireland every summer to walk, talk and enjoy the surroundings. On one such visit, she meets one of the three Sheedy sisters whom she knew in her childhood. Miss Queenie is frail and elderly now, and does not want to sell her house to the local O’Hara family, who is buying up land to develop holiday houses. With all that she learned from Mrs. Cassidy during her years in the States, Chicky recognizes the opportunity to make a new life for herself. Using the money she has saved, she buys Stone House to turn it into a hotel.
When the business arrangements are in place, Chicky says goodbye to New York and returns to Stoneybridge. She moves quickly into Stone House and begins the endless work of turning an old home into a hotel, courting the local business owners and townfolk. She plans to create a place where log fires are burning and the stylish yet understated guest rooms are welcome to all. She knows all too well what it’s like not to have a place to call home.
Stone House brings an eclectic group of people into Chicky’s life. Chapter by chapter, the reader meets nine people from various walks of life who come there either to work or as guests during the hotel’s opening week.There is Rigger, who gets hired on as a handyman when his life in Dublin takes a wrong turn. Orla, Chicky’s niece, brings her business-savvy and décor ideas to Stone House. Two women try to become friends under difficult circumstances. A well-known Hollywood actor who does not want to be recognized arrives. A married couple, both doctors, try to overcome tragedy, and a young Swedish heir struggles to find himself. A gift upon retirement finds a schoolteacher in residence, as well as a couple whose hobby of winning contests provides them a week in Ireland. And then there is the librarian whose psychic visions have disrupted her sense of herself and who she is. Stone House becomes a turnstyle that changes the direction of each of the character’s lives, including Chicky’s.
Maeve Binchy again has created a sense of place, with each character having his or her own unique part of the overall story and a feeling of coming home to Ireland. This reviewer is ready to book her next vacation on the Irish Coast. As always, after reading a Maeve Binchy book, there is a feeling of hope, warmth and renewal. She is a storyteller who will not be forgotten.
Reviewed by Jennifer McCord on February 14, 2013
A Week in Winter