A Week in Winter was the last new book I will read by Maeve Binchy. When she died last April 2012, we lost a creative story teller and popular author. I have read every single book and compilation Binchy has written and enjoyed each and every one. Her earlier books, such as Light a Penny Candle and The Glass Lake, are my favored books but I have to say, I never lost interest in any of the novels she published.
Binchy uses characters from earlier books to populate her novels. I Remember Brenda from her book Quentins so when she was mentioned in a few scenes in A Week in Winter, I recalled how Brenda looked and her role at the restaurant. Also the characters Declan and Fiona from Heart and Soul, and Cathy Feather are mentioned in passing.
This story is set in Stoneybridge, a small town on the west coast of Ireland. As with most of her other novels, Binchy has chapters dedicated to each major character and tells the story from their point of view. The main character is called Chicky Starr. You read her back story which involves falling in love with an American man (Walter Starr), moving to the US without her parents’ blessing, then facing her life without him when he leaves her….just as her parents predicted. But Chicky doesn’t tell her parents the truth about her existence in the US – she makes up a marriage to Walter and a fine life. She eventually “kills him off” telling of a fatal car accident and moves back to Stoneybridge. (This makes Chicky sound harsh, but she isn’t harsh at all…..she’s kind and understanding throughout the book.)
The house is a character in a way as this is the gathering place for all the characters. You read about the renovations to make it a respectable lodging house for holidays. The decaying mansion is owned by the elderly Miss Queenie Sheedy who decides to sell the house to Chicky. Assisted by her best friend’s son, Rigger, her niece Orla, you hear about the hard work and prep involved to establish this old place as a vacation destination. A relaxing one, with views of the Atlantic, cliffs and wildlife.
The first guests are John, an American movie star arriving under an assumed name; Winnie and Lillian, both loving the same man but Lillian is the over protective mother and Winnie is the man’s love interest; Nicola and Henry, both doctors who are married to each other – they have had so many unfortunate experiences involving their work and are all but numb to the idea of practicing medicine again; Anders, a Swedish man who is set to take over his father’s business but would prefer to be a musician;
Miss Nell Howe, a retired schoolteacher and uber critical of everything; one’s relief; the Walls, another married couple who won their Week in Winter and Freda, a young librarian, there on a get-away after being screwed over in a relationship. She also has psychic visions.
The story lines interweave and you see others point of view; you watch as problems are resolved and relationships form. The one story line I didn’t like and did not find satisfaction with was Nell Howe. She was completely unlikable and when she went away, and I mean just up and left the holiday house, there wasn’t a resolution. With Binchy’s novels you usually have an outcome, good or bad, but this character didn’t have a resolution.
This wasn’t my favorite of Binchy’s books but I did enjoy it. And I am very sad there won’t be any more books from the lovely and talented writer. (sniff, sniff)
Quite a bit of food mentioned in this book.
Parsnip and apple soup with homemade brown bread served during a kitchen lunch with Chicky and Orla.
For a cocktail party there was white wine, asparagus spears wrapped in pastry with dipping sauce and quail’s eggs.
Choux pastry, Irish stew, bacon and cabbage, Barmbrack.
A lunch of fresh salmon served with new potatoes and minted peas. Salads with asparagus and avocado, walnuts and blue cheese.
The dinners made me wish we were there. Smoked trout with horseradish cream and brown bread; roasted lamb, apple pie as well as vegetarian dishes (unspecified what sort).
Bowls of steaming, succulent mussels and fresh crusty bread.
Quite a few things appealed to me but what I chose to prepare the fresh salmon. Because we couldn’t get fresh – meaning not local to Florida – we grilled both Mahi Mahi as well as grilled salmon steaks (not the same evening!) This was served with potatoes and minted peas – we enjoyed two seafood dinners inspired from the book.
I am sharing this with Beth Fish Reads for the Weekend Cooking series. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs.