In this extraordinary collection of stories, the New York Times-bestselling author of Evening Class and This Year It Will Be Different once again reveals her incomparable understanding of matters of the heart. In The Return Journey, Maeve Binchy brings us sons and lovers, daughters and strangers, husbands and wives in their infinite variety--powerfully compelling stories of love, loss, revelation, and reconciliation.
A secretary's silent passion for her boss meets the acid test on a business trip....A man and a woman's mutual disdain at first sight shows how deceptive appearances can be....An insecure wife clings to the illusion of order, only to discover chaos at the hands of a house sitter who opens the wrong doors....A pair of star-crossed travelers take each other's bags, and then learn that when you unlock a stranger's suitcase, you enter a stranger's life. In their company are many more, whose poignant, ironic, often humorous stories--unforgettable slices of life--make up The Return Journey, a spellbinding trip into the human heart.
Not without reason is Binchy (Evening Class; Circle of Friends) most popular for her novels, as this unimpressive collection of short stories linked by the theme of travel-and-learn indicates. Although the time is now and the place usually Dublin, the writing is dated, dependent on such romantic-comedy movie devices as mistaken identity, switched suitcases, confidante becoming lover, the stranger who upsets all the old balances, the surprise presence of Mum at the restaurant of the out-of-the-way hotel intended for a tryst. The most promising of the batch is the title story, a series of letters between a mother who left Ireland and her daughter, the young woman who has gone there to see the village her mother grew up in. The characters here have depth and secrets not immediately apparent. The conflicts between mother and daughter mirror the conflicts the mother has about her homeland. Unfortunately, the remaining 13 stories touch on formulaic generational and gender misunderstandings. The characters are established early, the predictable plot mechanisms uncoil like the proverbial spring and the conclusions are socked home, often in a chirpy manner.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 27, 2007
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Excerpt from The Return Journey by Maeve Binchy
Annie checked in early. She had come out to the airport in plenty of time. None of this was going to be a hassle. Once she had taken her boarding card and seen the smart new case trundle off with its little tag telling it to go to London Heathrow, she sighed with relief; it was all happening now, nothing could stop it. She was going to have the luxury of really looking at the things in the duty-free shop for once, and maybe trying out a few of the perfumes on her wrist. She might even look at cameras and watches--not buy, but look.
Alan was late; he was always late checking in. But he had such a nice smile and looked so genuinely apologetic, nobody seemed to mind. They told him to go straight to the departure gate, and he did--well, more or less. They couldn't expect him to go through that duty-free without buying a bottle of vodka, could they? He had no sign of fuss or confusion; he slipped onto the plane last, but somebody had to come in last. He settled himself easily into his seat in executive class. With the ease of the frequent traveler, he had stowed his briefcase and vodka neatly above, fastened his safety belt in a way that the air hostess could see it was fastened, and he had opened his copy of Time. Another business trip begun.
Annie smiled with relief when she saw her case on the carousel at London Airport; she always half expected it to be left behind, like she expected the Special Branch men to call her in and ask her business in England and the Customs men to rip the case apart looking for concealed heroin. She was of a fearful nature, but she knew that and said it wasn't a bad way to be because it led to so many nice surprises when these things didn't happen. She took her case and went unscathed through Customs. She followed the signs for the Underground and got onto a train that she thought must be like a lift in the United Nations building: There were people of every nationality under the sun, and all of their suitcases had different little tags. She closed her eyes happily as the train rushed into London.
Alan reached out easily and took his case as it was about to pass by. He helped a family who couldn't cope with all their cases arriving at once. One by one he swung them off the conveyor belt, and when he took one that wasn't theirs he just swung it easily back again with no fuss. The woman gave him a very grateful smile. Alan had a way of looking better than other people's husbands. He bought an Evening Standard in the paper shop and settled himself into a taxi. He had already asked the taxi driver if he could have a receipt at the end of the journey; some of them could be grumpy, always better to say what you want at the start and say it pleasantly. Alan's motto. Alan's secret of success. It was sunset; he looked out briefly at the motorways and the houses with their neat gardens away in the distance. It was nice to be back in London where you didn't know everyone and everyone didn't know you.
The train took Annie to Gloucester Road, and she walked with a quick and happy step to the hotel, where she had stayed many times. The new suitcase was light to carry; it had been expensive, but what the hell--it would last forever. It was so nice, she had bought two of those little suitcase initials and stuck them on. "A.G." At first she wondered if this was a dead giveaway, wouldn't people know that they weren't married if they had different initials? But he had laughed at her and patted her nose, telling her that she was a funny little thing and had a fearful nature. And Annie Grant had agreed and remembered that most people didn't give a damn about that sort of thing nowadays. Most people.
The taxi took Alan to Knightsbridge and the hotel, where they remembered him or pretended to. He always said his name first, just in case. "Of course, Mr. Green," the porter said with a smile. "Good to have you with us again." Alan folded the receipt from the taxi driver into his wallet and followed the porter to the desk; his room reservation was in order. He made an elegant and flattering remark to the receptionist, which left her patting her hair with pleasure and wondering why the nice ones like Mr. Green didn't ask you out and the yucky ones slobbered all over you. Alan went up to his room and took a bottle of tonic from the minibar. He noticed it wasn't slimline, so he put it back and took soda. Alan was careful about everything.
Annie opened her case in the small hotel bedroom where she would spend one night. She would hang up her dresses to make sure the creases fell out. She would have a bath and use all those nice lotions and bath oils so that they didn't look brand new tomorrow. The key turned and she lifted the lid. There were no dresses and no shoes. Neither the two new nighties nor the very smart toilet bag with its unfamiliar Guerlain products were in the case. There were files and boxes and men's shirts and men's underpants and socks, and more files. Her heart gave several sharp sideways jumps, each one hurting her breastbone.