Echoes by Maeve Binchy

Echoes is a story that takes place in a small Irish coastal town of Castlebay.  This tourist town makes most of its yearly income in the eleven weeks of summer. Most of the residents wrestle a living out of their small businesses.  Caste systems are upheld, in many cases no matter what. Gossip thrives here and a family member who makes bad choices will not only taint their own reputation but that of the entire family, generation to generation.

Clare O’Brien is a gifted child of a struggling grocery store owner. The family is brash and uneducated so they do not understand why Clare studies and takes extra lessons with her teacher. But Clare has plans for her future, big plans. 

Her teacher Angela O’Hara has given up bright career opportunities to come back to Castlebay and care for her ill mother.  Under the strict gaze of Mother Immaculata Angela teaches the dull and apathetic children of Castlebay. Tutoring Claire revives her spirit until she receives a letter from her brother Sean, a missionary priest. He has left the priesthood, married a Japanese woman, and has already had one child with another on the way. At the time, this is just about the worst thing that could happen to a family and living in a town fueled by gossip, a disgrace of the highest order. Also, pretty funny.

David is the only son of a doctor, the wealthiest family in town.  Molly, his social climbing mother sets his future path, except for falling in love with Claire. Another disgrace.

I haven’t been drawn into a literary world like this for a long time.  The characters were so human, making good and bad choices.  Angela’s story in particular stood out to me. She was both bowed low by her life and yet showed spunk at the same time.  I laughed out loud at the exchange between Angela and Immaculata (she privately drops “Mother”) when the nun insisted Angela accompany her on a simple errand.

“Why don’t they allow you out on your own, Mother? I’m delighted to accompany you of course, but I’ve often wondered.”  

“It’s part of our Rule,” Immaculata said smugly. Angela felt like punching her in the  face.          

“Are they afraid you’ll make a run for it?” she asked. 

“Hardly, Miss O’Hara.”    

“Well, there must be some reason, but I suppose we’ll never know.”                                                                                                                               

“We rarely question the Rule.”                                                                                                                                                                                                            

“No I suppose you don’t. That’s where you have my wholehearted admiration. I’d question it from morning to night.”                           

The nun gave a tinny little laugh. “Oh, I’m sure you would,” Miss O’Hara.

This is the characteristic attitude towards their sometimes harsh lives. Down but not out. I liked the story, the setting, and the well-drawn characters  but must say, was not greatly pleased by the ending. I love Binchy’s writing style and her descriptions and characterizations are fantastic. This is my first book by her. It will not be the last.

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5 Responses

  1. I haven’t yet read anything by this author, but do have a copy of this book waiting its turn to be read. I am glad you enjoyed this one, Jaimie, even if the ending wasn’t quite what you hoped.

  2. Hi Wendy! Yes, it was great up to soon before the end. I would be curious to hear your opinion on it too.

  3. I’ve not read any of Binchy’s books but have certainly heard about her. Thanks for the review of this book!

  4. Hi Alice! I got this Binchy recommendation from another blogger. Apparently, her other books have happier endings, so I am going to try another.

  5. I didn’t like the ending either! But you’re right, the rest of the book was good.

    What made it worse for me was it wasn’t the first book by her I read–I’d read a lot of her later stuff and so I really knew her as a “feel-good” author (though not in a shallow way.) Her later stuff basically has everything work out well for everyone who deserves it, even minor characters. So this one, and also the ending of Light A Penny Candle, made me go, WHAT?

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