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Maeve's Times: In Her Own Words


Maeve's Times: In Her Own Words

When Maeve Binchy died suddenly two summers ago at the far-too-young age of 72, I was among millions in the literary universe who mourned her passing.

In conversation with friends, the sad event naturally prompted questions like “What was your favorite book? I’ve always liked…” and here one would receive the praises of any or all 16 then-published Binchy novels, with later accolades for number 17, her posthumous A WEEK IN WINTER. When I innocently commented instead on my deep admiration for her journalism --- her prolific four-decade association with The Irish Times --- my utterance was met with incredulous stares. Even friends who knew I’d spent nearly 25 years reporting for a very unremarkable Canadian paper were surprised. “But newspaper stuff is old the day after it’s written…” etc. etc.

The foregoing is a long way of saying that the just-published MAEVE’S TIMES is a real godsend to those of us inspired by good reporting and increasingly frustrated by the rarity of it these days. It is a brilliant anthology of her best work for Ireland’s leading newspaper, beginning with the mid-1960s trials of a young teacher (Maeve herself) herding elementary grade students through a field trip, running right up to 2011 when she typed up a thoughtful reflection on the allure of the latest royal superstars, William and Kate.

"...a real godsend to those of us inspired by good reporting and increasingly frustrated by the rarity of it these days. It is a brilliant anthology of [Binchy's] best work for Ireland’s leading newspaper..."

For so many of us “baby boomers” born within a decade of Binchy, MAEVE’S TIMES are also our times. They’ve spanned the Cold War, anti-nuclear protests, a plethora of human and natural tragedies, the festering sore of Middle East unrest, civil war in a dozen different failed states, the uncertainties of national healthcare, the Thatcher-Reagan era, the rise and fall of global powers, the shifting west-to-east economy, the impact of borderless technology, the unrecognized power of the elderly, the abuse of women, the illusory myths of wealth and success to which we cling, and the enjoyment of simple happiness for what it is.

Binchy’s four-plus decades as a working journalist ran as a fascinating and deep parallel to her international life as a bestselling novelist, pumping out what she called “escapist” or “airport” fiction. But what few realize is that she didn’t publish her first famous title, LIGHT A PENNY CANDLE, until 1982 when she was well into middle age and had two solid decades of daily press experience to build on. Despite the absorbing length of her fiction-writing, Binchy’s Irish Times feature stories are, more often than not, pure gems of unforgettable brevity, in which even the most stringent editorial demands regarding word count simply disappear in the sheer art of her telling.

With increasing freedom over the years to create her own headlines (most mere reporters have to suffer whatever semantic indignities editors jam into the space above their columns), the Contents page of MAEVE’S TIMES reads like a magical list of possibilities: Whatever could that be about? you ask. And, in many cases, it’s a hilarious, thought-provoking or even tear-producing experience.

Whether she was writing descriptively, critically, forensically, amiably, sadly, optimistically, cynically (or in any other state of mind), Maeve Binchy the journalist always had something meaningful to say, just as much so in 1964 as in 2011. Few of us among the “fifth estate” could lay claim to such a noteworthy achievement.

So I’m taking a grave risk in the face of millions of fiction fans in saying that if you’re among the few on this planet who have never read a Maeve Binchy book, start with MAEVE’S TIMES. Then you’ll truly understand how the outstanding reporter formed the iconic novelist.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch on November 7, 2014

Maeve's Times: In Her Own Words
by Maeve Binchy

  • Publication Date: October 28, 2014
  • Genres: Collection, Literary, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0385353456
  • ISBN-13: 9780385353458