Heart and Soul
As much as I'm addicted to hard news and biography, Maeve Binchy's novels are my guilty pleasure. If you're into this genre (think chick lit with substance) you won't be disappointed with Heart and Soul, the Irish novelist's latest book. Set in (where else?) Dublin, the book chronicles a year in the life of employees and patients of a new heart clinic.
Scrambling both for clinic funds and a smoother personal life, protagonist Clara Casey, a cardiologist, is one of Binchy's most feminist characters to date. She is also a well-drawn and likable one: successful but humble, compassionate yet hard as nails when she needs to be. Casey has given herself a year to succeed at what was at first an unwanted job, after being passed over for a more prestigious position. In the meantime, she hopes to sort out her difficult adult daughters, her nearly-ex-husband, and a budding romance with a boring man.
This book is actually full of strong, independent female characters of all ages, ranging from the young, hopeful immigrant who is hired to do chores at the office to the foreign language teacher who is skeptical about her husband's treatments at the clinic.
Fans will be delighted to see characters from several of Binchy's other books (Scarlet Feather, Quentins, Nights of Rain and Stars, Whitethorn Woods) return alongside new ones that are equally well-drawn. Then there's the delightful backdrop of Irish neighborhoods so cozy and intimate that everyone seems to know everyone.
Spoiler alert: My only gripe reading Heart and Soul is that Binchy, in her constant quest to reward her characters with happiness, sets the stage for a romantic dalliance with a couple of people who spend most of the book at each other's throats. And out of nowhere, they're dancing and he's asking her out? Hello!
Other than that, this is a fast read and a sweet escape from the daily grind. If you like Maeve, you will love this one.