Guest Blog: Two Postcards from Maeve Binchy

Two Postcards from Maeve Binchy
Guest blog by Catherine Batac Walder

I haven't composed a handwritten fan letter in a while. I wrote two to author Maeve Binchy, and she replied to both. I was much younger when I wrote my first letter, and I must have commented that she wrote mainly about women and whined that I was disillusioned with her portrayal of men. One of her postcards is in an album back home in the Philippines. I don't remember her exact words, but it was something along the lines of "this is real life."

Walder_Binchy Postcard.JPGThe second time I wrote to her was a few months after I first came to Europe in 2005. I wanted to visit Ireland. I wrote to Binchy about my trip, and I was bold enough to ask if I could visit her. It was a long shot (she didn't know me, it was before Christmas, and I was visiting only for a few days), so I didn't expect that it would happen. That she replied at all in the new year was something to be grateful for. She wrote, in part, "I am not able to meet all the people who come through Dublin. But I do send you warm wishes for 2006."

I've always had trouble classifying her works. They're not quite romance novels. In Circle of Friends, for example, good-looking Jack falls for the plain girl but still gets seduced by the beautiful woman in the end. The professor in The Evening Class has a troubled marriage. His wife is unbearable, and it should be rather romantic for him to find Sigñora, who is very understanding. But there is something about Binchy's writing that makes you question the happy ending and instead mull over issues of morality and guilt, even as you turn the last page. Sometimes you fall in love (Light a Penny Candle) with her characters or hate (Firefly Summer) them with a passion. Binchy's humor and study of the human character are a constant in her novels, as are universal themes. Even though I lived in a different country, it was as if she had written about my next-door neighbor.

At a time when I shifted from classics to contemporary authors, I found myself collecting Binchy. I was selective about reading female authors at that time but anything about my beloved Ireland was an exception. Binchy was a guilty pleasure to an extent but one I would readily share with others. I had introduced her to a few female friends who still read her up to now. She wrote of what she knew, so her stories were real and for someone who wanted to go beyond the thick forests, glass lakes, and lush countryside of Ireland; she was my free ticket. I'm one of her millions of readers who are saddened to see the last of these books. Maeve Binchy died after a short illness on July 30. She was 72.

--Catherine Batac Walder is a UK-based freelance writer. She has previously written about Ex-Libris copies, the Oxford Literary Festival, and Sherlock Holmes for FB&C.