I read a couple of books in the last week that contained stories within the story. You know the type, each chapter from a different character’s perspective, each telling their own story, but their stories all come together somehow. In the case of the books that I read, their stories came together in a cooking class and at an inn in Ireland. Although very different in many ways, I liked both of these books for the same reason. Regardless of where people (or characters in a story!) come together, many of the messages are very similar. We will have an impact, sometime in the future, on people that we have not yet met. Our lives are bound to others in ways that we cannot foresee. You never know the burdens that others carry. Everyone’s personal story is unendingly complex, truly personal. There is always hope.
A Week in Winter, the last book written by Maeve Binchy before her death, was certainly my favorite of the two books. Knowing that it was the last Maeve Binchy book made me a little melancholy before I even started reading, and a book set on the rocky and stormy Atlantic coast of Ireland will have plenty of melancholy already! I love books set in Ireland, and while this one offered no surprises to fans of Maeve Binchy, it transported me to Stone House, an inn opened by Chicky Starr with the help of Riggy (a troubled young man who needs to find his way) and Orla (Chicky’s niece trying to find her place). Separate chapters focus on each of these characters as well as an American actor who ends up there on a whim, a couple of doctors that are trying to recover from the tragedies they’ve witnessed, a psychic librarian, a cantankerous school principal, a Swede torn between family duty and his love of music, a young girl and her not-happy future mother-in-law, and a prize-winning couple. Each has a different story and separate reasons for being at Stone House, where they will hopefully (mostly) find hope and a way forward in their lives.
Unfortunately, Maeve Binchy did not get a chance to finish editing the book before her death, and in places, it shows. There are several awkward transitions, some characters that are not as well-developed as in her previous works, and some storylines that seem to be left unfinished. However, it is still Maeve Binchy, comforting and thoughtful storytelling.
Title: Week in Winter
Author: Maeve Binchy
Publication: Knopf, February 2013
The Art of Mixing, the sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients, is now on the shelves at the library and I decided it was time to bump the first book up to the top of my to-read list! The story focuses on a cooking school being taught at a restaurant owned by the instructor, Lillian. There are chapters in the book devoted to the back story of each of the students – the struggling teenager, the shy computer guy, the beautiful Italian woman, the harried mother, the forgetful elderly woman, the sad widower, and the older married couple. Other chapters in the book focus on the cooking class each week and the interactions that the students have with the instructor, each other, and food. Food is certainly a character of its own in this novel, and there are beautiful passages describing food and the art of cooking that could cause me to gain twenty pounds! There are parts of the book that may be a little too saccharine, and maybe things end a little too neatly for everyone, but ultimately it was entertaining, a light set of stories about people and the way that food touches our lives.
Title: The School of Essential Ingredients
Author: Erica Bauermeister
Publication: Putnam, January 2009