Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade (available in mass market), 452 pages, 2008

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: My mom started collecting Maeve Binchy novels; when it got to half a dozen I figured I better actually read one and see why.

Synopsis: Clara Casey agrees to work the new cardiac care clinic for one year to get things off the ground and soon finds herself surrounded by a lively bunch of nurses, doctors, patients – half of the town, it seems, all with their own set of adventures and longings. Clara is dealing with an ex-husband who wants a ‘favour,’ one tree-hugger daughter and another who thinks the world should fall at her feet and throw money at her. She looks with envy at Ania, a young Polish girl with incredible work ethic and wonders where she went wrong with her own family – but everyone has their secrets…

Why you should read this book: This ensemble cast of characters is sure to win you over as they face life’s ups and downs. As people date, divorce, work, and play, the cardiac clinic and its patients are there to remind us, in a light-handed way, of what’s important in life…and that realizing what is important can be a struggle. There are a core group of characters that we get to follow along with and get to know very well, but the minor characters we also hear snippets from all enrich the main story. You’ll finish the book feeling like you’ve met an entire town, and you’re right at home and ready to move in amongst everyone’s dreams and ambitions. There are plenty of real-life troubles packed into this book, but ultimately Heart and Soul makes for a great comfort read (the Irish charm helps). The good news is that if you get hooked, Binchy seems to be fond of characters crossing over between her novels – look for the catering twins in Scarlet Feather, for example.

Why you should avoid this book: Heart and Soul has a big cast of characters. Big. It seems everyone but the dog gets a chapter to tell their story. For the most part, it’s easy to read a paragraph (or page or two) and figure out where the characters fit into things, but if you’re looking for a straightforward, linear story, you’ll go a little crazy reading this book. I suspect I would not have enjoyed this book as much if I were still in my 20s – the broad age range of the characters might have made it a little hard to relate to some of them.

Opening paragraph:

Some projects take forever to get off the ground.
One of these was the disused storage depot that was owned by St Brigid’s Hospital. It was an unattractive cluster of warehouses around a yard. Once it had held supplies for the hospital but it was in an awkward place; new traffic regulations meant that it was a long and cumbersome journey through the Dublin streets to get from one place to the other.

Fabulous quotes:

‘Please, Clara…’
‘Go, Alan. Go now.’
‘You’re just locking yourself away. You’re still a fine-looking woman…’
‘Go while you’re still able to walk.’
Clara made a gesture with the chair as if she were going to use it as a weapon. He backed out of the door and was gone. She didn’t feel outraged or insulted. She didn’t even feel patronised any more. She felt empty and foolish and ashamed that she had spent any small moment hoping this worthless man would tire of his mistress and come home to her.

Declan’s face broke into a huge smile. She thought he was one of the nice doctors, she thought he was married. Ah, dear Lord, there might be hope for him still. At lunchtime he asked her out. Declan Carroll, who had never asked a girl out properly on a date because there was never enough money or time or confidence.
‘Would you like to come out and have dinner with me one night this week?’ It sounded quite a normal thing for a person to say, yet it echoed in his ears as if he were in some huge cavern.

Also recommended: A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve; The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes; My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult.

Also by this author: Light a Penny Candle; The Lilac Bus; Echoes; Firefly Summer; Silver Wedding; Circle of Friends; The Copper Beech; The Glass Lake; Evening Class; Tara Road; Scarlet Feather; Quentins; Nights of Rain and Stars; Whitehorn Woods; Central Line; Victoria Line; Dublin 4; London Transports; Story Teller: Collection of Short Stories; Dublin People; Cross Lines; This Year Will be Different and Other Stories; Star Sullivan; The Builders; Deeply Regretted By; Aches and Pains; A Time to Dance; The Maeve Binchy Writer’s Club.

Author’s website: maevebinchy.com

Fun tidbit: Check out this video of Maeve Binchy explaining the premise of Heart and Soul and why she wanted to write about a heart care clinic.

Would I read more by this author? I’ll definitely read the other five or so books of hers that are kicking around. I definitely can see her being a yearly ‘comfort read.’

&#169 Lisa Yanaky 2003-2010

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