Wednesday, February 20, 2013


1985, 1989 Dell edition
Maeve Binchy
Original price $6.99, purchase price 99 cents
Worn paperback

Binchy's second novel is about as good as her first, less melodramatic but less memorable.  Like Penny Candle, it's set mostly in a small Irish town, in the past, although this time the span is 1950 to '62, and the "big city" is Dublin rather than London.  The title refers to Echo Cave, which has a Delphic aspect, in that locals whisper questions and the echoes provide an answer.  The cave is dropped as motif (the cliffs are much more prominent), although there are other echoes, as when young Clare's life resembles the teacher Miss O'Hara's in some ways.

Angela O'Hara steals every scene, with her mix of common sense and Catholic guilt.  When her brother leaves the priesthood to marry a Japanese woman, Angela tries to keep it a secret, always dreading the visit of "Father Sean" and his new family.  Then when they show up, no one recognises him, and it's rather anti-climactic.  Similarly, many of the other plots and subplots fizzle out, although the death in the prologue is explained much more plausibly than that of Candle.

Binchy was born in 1940, but she makes two chronological errors that are glaring.  One is a baby born in the first half of 1960 and named "John Fitzgerald" after the "President."  If it was phrased as "the future president, we hope," or similar, it wouldn't bug me, but JFK didn't even have the nomination at that point.  Worse is the dance in 1957 where two girls are eager to demonstrate their Twisting skills.  You didn't know that Chubby Checker stole the dance from Castlebay did you?  He waited three years before he sang about it, just to be safe.

What does this matter?  Well, if Binchy is hoping to capture a certain time, she needs to get things like that right.  For all I know, some of the details of Irish culture may be wrong, too.  And anachronisms add to the feeling I get of her writing being not quite believable. 

Still, yes, I kept buying her books because I could pick them up so cheaply.  So, yes, I will be covering Firefly Summer in 1988....

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