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.