Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dublin 4

1982, 1992 Dell edition
Maeve Binchy
Dublin 4, published with The Lilac Bus under the latter's title
Original price $5.99, purchase price $1.98
Worn paperback

When Binchy died this past May, my first thought after the oddity of it happening the same day Gore Vidal died, was that it would be a long time till I got up to even the first of her books.  But here we are, seven months later, and we'll soon be at her second and third.  Dating these works is a bit tricky, since for one thing Lilac Bus was published in 1984.  But I decided this one is first, for reasons I'll discuss another time.

She married fairly late, at age 37, and published her first short story collection the next year, 1978.  I can't help wondering if this gave her a different perspective on things, two major life changes at the beginning of middle age.  Certainly her view of marriage, while not as bleak as that of Sinclair Lewis or Marilyn French, is surprisingly cynical for a writer celebrated for her cosiness.  And there are women in her stories who reinvent themselves in their 30s and 40s.

The "4" of the title are all set in the Irish capital and its suburbs, mostly with long-time residents, although "Flat in Ringsend" shows the paranoid fantasies of an 18-year-old country girl trying to adjust to the casualness of bedsitter life.  "Decision in Belfield" is also about a young woman, here a pregnant 21-year-old who remembers the mystery surrounding her older sister's pregnancy five years before.  "Dinner in Donnybrook" tells of a wife's revenge on her husband and his mistress.  And "Murmurs in Montrose" is the saddest story, about a "cured" alcoholic and his family.

Binchy is a strange writer for me to have so much of, because I don't entirely like her writing.  It's very readable, and I always want to see what happens next, even when I've read the books a few times before.  It's just there's something off, something not quite real, about her characters.  They always seem less vivid than she thinks they are.  Often the way other characters describe them, including characters whose opinions we're supposed to trust, feels exaggerated.  I didn't notice it so much in this collection, but it is notable in her longer fiction.  Here, I kept wondering, "How is it that these people seldom really talk with each other, when these stories are almost nothing but dialogue?"

Anyway, I'll try to articulate this more as I go along. 

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