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The Copper Beech (2005)

The Copper Beech (2005)
3.86 of 5 Votes: 5
0752876813 (ISBN13: 9780752876818)
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The Copper Beech (2005)
The Copper Beech (2005)

About book: I had a Maeve Binchy phase, oh, about 20 years ago. She wrote these cosy books about an old fashioned Ireland, where people were quirky, knew everything about everyone, and were never nasty to each other. Bad things happened to good people, but they got past it. I outgrew Maeve, but from time to time I pick one up, for a pleasant re=read.The Copper Beech is one of her ensemble cast stories. She takes a central theme and weaves the individual stories around the centrepost. It's a bit like reading interconnected short stories rather than a novel. Her style and plots are predictable, stereotypes abound, and there's an underlying order to things that her characters seldom deviate from. People pair off neatly, reproduce on cue (or suffer madly before finding a suitable alternative), agonize over their lives, become stronger, get over it. The bad guys get their low-key just desserts. But most of her stories are set in the 1950s or earlier and so she gets away with it. Overall, I think she does better with her earlier works "Light a Penny Candle" for example, which follows one storyline and fewer characters.She's the macaroni cheese of Irish fiction and I love her for it.

Maeve Binchy's The Copper Beech is set in the small village of Shancarrig, where the small schoolhouse is dominated by a huge old copper beech tree, which over the years has seen generations of children come in and grow up. Junior Assistant Mistress Maddy Ross takes care of the very youngest students, but her true interests lie in the parish rather than the school; young Maura is from the wrong side of the tracks but full of kindness; Leo is the richest girl in town but holds the darkest secret of all; Eddie loves plants and flowers, things a boy shouldn't care about in this insular world; and Nessa is a determined young girl who wants to better herself. How all these children, and others, live and grow up and find their places in life is the heart of the story, and there are many surprises along the way.... As always, I enjoyed Binchy's gentle tales, really a collection of individual stories about each of her characters that are woven together to create a whole portrait of the world of a small Irish village in the 1950s and on. I don't think this is her best work, but it's very much a part of her general oevre, and as such it's a wonderful, quiet read. Recommended.
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Phyllis Gauker
I started reading this book many months ago and had to set it aside for a while. It depressed me to hear about the life in a small Irish village, filled with prejudice, drunkenness, social climbers, temptations of the priesthood, etc. But the other day I felt I was strong enough to read it, and picked it up again, right where the bookmark was. I didn't want to review the parts that had bothered me, so I dug right in, with only 1/8 of the book to go. There were some resolutions for me on the social class ladder where FINALLY children who'd grown up together but had been separated by their different social strata, were able to socialize as friends, but kept their steps on the economic and class ladders intact. I do not doubt that the microcosm of this town is any different than that anywhere else, but it felt so stark (and maybe that was the point of her having written) that I did not enjoy it. My opinion and feelings on these subjects probably led me to overlook the good writing1
While I liked some portions of this novel, I certainly didn't love it. The format, basically a series of connected novellas, was one I didn't particularly appreciate. I suppose the title was apt in that in some ways it was more about the tree than any particular person who had sat underneath its branches. It was a bit by the acclaimed but unliked by me novel Life After Life in that with each new "chapter" (novella) time was reset. Events were in some ways revisited but through the perspective of another character. As with most if not all of Ms. Binchy's books, there was a sweetness to the end but this novel was far darker in many aspects than of her books that I have read and loved previously. If you have a passionate love of both Ireland and Maeve Binchy, look into this novel. Otherwise, let it alone as there are more enjoyable books available including many written by this author. This in my opinion was not her best effort.
The opening of this tale is big event in the little town of Shancarring, Ireland. The Bishop is coming for a special blessing of the local school. "In many ways, of course, it would have been much easier to let Mrs Kennedy (the local priests housekeeper) to take charge, to have allowed to get her machine into motion to organize." (many years ago I knew of a church that thought there was one lady who could do better than most people in the church, including the memory impaired clergyman.....they thought, jokingly, that this woman should have even done the wedding ceremonies)The school was left in charge of eveything, much to the dissaproval of the housekeeper. The story describes who was there. Then the book has chapters about 8 of these characters. One big theme is that things in any house things are not necessarily what they seems and neither are the people. The end of the book braids all the stories together. By the school there is a big, old copper beech tree. The tree is rather symbolic of the people in town and their lives.
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