Years ago, when a co-worker and I were commuting by train each day to our office, we shared many books back and forth. Maeve Binchy was one author my well-read friend introduced me to, and whenever I pick up a Maeve Binchy novel, I remember that fun chapter in our lives.
A masterfully crafted tale of joy, heartbreak and hope, Minding Frankie is about a motherless girl collectively raised by a close-knit Dublin community.
When Noel Lynch learns that Stella, his terminally ill former flame, is pregnant with his child, he agrees to take guardianship of the baby girl once she’s born. But as a single father battling his own issues, Noel can’t do it alone. Fortunately, Noel is surrounded by a competent, caring network. Lisa, his unlucky-in-love classmate, moves in with him to help him care for baby Frankie. Emily, Noel’s American cousin, is always ready with a pep talk. The family doctor, grandparents, and big-hearted neighbors complete the supportive circle.
But nosy social worker Moira Tierney isn’t satisfied with the unconventional arrangement. Convinced Frankie would be better off in a traditional family, Moira bides her time, waiting for the tragedy she’s certain will happen.
In every novel I’ve read by Binchy, the characters are varied, unexpected, and so compelling I want to jump into the pages to hug, laugh, or cry with them.
And Binchy often gives us a character who, at first, annoys us so much we wish that character would just go away. In Minding Frankie, this character is Moira Tierney. Despite very difficult circumstances, everything is going well for Noel and his baby daughter Frankie, and we’re cheering for all the good, conscientious people supporting them. Then social worker Moira shows up. In her pursuit to check off all the right boxes, Moira establishes a pattern of missing greater opportunities. In fact, readers might argue that Moira actually causes the very kinds of trouble she says she’s trying to avoid.
But as the story progresses, we begin to appreciate where Moira has come from and why her negative traits are so difficult for her to overcome. We see her reaching out to people in the only way she knows how to. And, even as she drives us crazy by making things unnecessarily difficult for Noel and Frankie, we see how well-suited Moira might be to her role of social worker.
One thing I love about reading books by Maeve Binchy is the way the stories and characters are allowed to develop in their own time.
In fact, I find it interesting that other reviewers criticize Binchy for “meandering” off-point. I completely disagree with this as a criticism. Instead, I embrace this style, especially when it is in the expert, intentional hands of Maeve Binchy. It is true that Binchy does not use popular techniques like giving readers a brief explanation of a character’s history and then expecting us to take her word for it and move on to the “real” action. Or presenting readers with a cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter so the thrill never ends—until we turn the last page and feel strangely deflated.
I love how a slower pace can add a subtle shade of mystery. How it can be an invitation for readers to go deep into the lives of characters before we form conclusions about them.
“Did you love her, this Stella?” Lisa had asked.
“I think ‘love’ is too strong a word. I like her a lot,” he replied, struggling to be honest.
“She must love you, then, to leave you in charge,” Lisa said.
“No, I don’t think she does. I think she trusts me. That’s all.”
“Well, that’s a big part of life. If you trust someone, you’re halfway there,” Lisa said.
Reader, what about you? Are you a fan of Maeve Binchy? Are there other authors who unfold a story at a pace that feels just right to you? I’d love to hear more about your favorite books.
Here with you,
P.S. The page count for Minding Frankie translates to about seven-and-a-half hours of reading time. Those pages are divided into fifteen chapters, so if you plan to read for about a half hour at a time, you’ll end up taking breaks at chapter endings—right where Binchy intended you to.