In Circle of Friends, Maeve Binchy again captures the intricacies of everyday people with common dilemmas, and weaves them into a delightful read.
Set in Ireland, the city of Dublin does what every other city does to the eager youth of outlying areas. It entices. It boasts of things better, finer, “cooler,” and smarter than their little hometowns. Even at 10 years old, Benny Hogan feels the slap of receiving a gift purchased in her hometown—instead of a beautiful dress she had seen, and hoped for, from a shop in Dublin.
As in other stories by Ms. Binchy, the sting is ameliorated by another wonderful character in the story…the one, in fact, who unwittingly caused the invisible “slap.”
Eva is an odd girl, but a young friendship develops between the two girls who have almost nothing in common but their honesty, kindness, and genuine feelings.
Eva is an orphan being raised by gracious nuns at a convent school. Eva’s one request of them is that, while she’ll work hard for her keep—do anything the nuns ask—she doesn’t have to do the work in front of her classmates.
She asks only to maintain a semblance of equality with her peers, and the nuns respect her wishes. This is one example of the way the author so eloquently brings out the inner workings of the human mind.
Benny is an only child of caring, loving parents. Benny’s father owns a store in the small town of Knockglen. He has a hired helper who Benny and Eva see as sleazy, and who seems to have his eye set on taking over—and not just the business!
As the girl’s graduate high school and college is discussed, Benny is reminded that Knockglen is close enough to Dublin to commute back and forth each day. And commute Benny will do, she learns, much to her disappointment.
At the same time, Eva yearns to go to college too, but her only chance of being able to pay the tuition lies in her being able to swallow a lot of pride and approach a most unapproachable family.
Eva is tiny, but she is no wimp. She does what must be done and joins Benny at university. Eva must work for her keep, though, and this means doing exactly what Benny would love to do…live in Dublin. As it goes, Benny comes home on the bus each night, and Eva stays in Dublin longing for a home to go home to!
The pair meets a group of friends and all seems like a typical college scene in any large city. The café’s, the parties, the coupling. Then, of course, there comes the dark cloud, the burst, and the resiliency.
Perhaps what is so endearing about Circle of Friends is its portrayal of commonality among characters, set in an atmosphere where young people respect their parents and hold friendships very dear…where money is highly considered, but doesn’t have a strong-arm hold on the families involved…where life is typical and “un-extraordinary”.
It is the inner thoughts of the young people that shape this simple story into one of satisfaction.
Fionnula Flanagan is wonderful to listen to!