Title: Whitethorn Woods
Author: Maeve Binchy
Published: 2006 Orion Publishing
My Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Many years ago I went through a huge Maeve Binchy phase, back around the time when Circle of Friends became a movie. (1995??!! wow, longer ago than I thought!) Whitethorn Woods was a book that I bought on impulse during a trip to Scotland a couple of years back, not realizing until I got home that I hadn't read anything of hers for quite some time. Thus, it sat on my shelf quite patiently until this month when I was scouring my shelves for anything somewhat related to Ireland.
Rather than a story revolving around one central character, this is a story revolving around a place...which is, of course, Whitethorn Woods. It is told in a series of short stories about different characters, each of whose lives touch on the progressing fate of Whitethorn Woods (rather similar in structure to Olive Kitteridge, though Binchy's novel was published first). Hidden in these woods is an ancient shrine to St. Ann, to which people travel from far and wide in order to request help with their personal struggles. Woven throughout each person's individual story is the search for faith and hope, though the answer to prayer--when there is one--often comes in a manner least expected.
All of Maeve Binchy's characters are real people, straight out of the gate. They have circumstances, personality, and a voice unique to each of them...although philandering husbands and difficult mothers seemed to be recurring themes. Because of how the story is told, each character is only in the spotlight for a short while, making the desire to reach the end of the book slack off at different points. There wasn't much to keep the interest building; it was pretty even keel throughout. That being said, all of the short stories are engaging and the book is quick to read. And it takes place near Dublin--what's not to like?