Maeve Binchy once again brings us an enchanting book full of the wit, warmth, and wisdom that have made her one of the most beloved and widely read writers at work today.
When a new highway threatens to bypass the town of Rossmore and cut through Whitethorn Woods, everyone has a passionate opinion about whether the town will benefit or suffer. But young Father Flynn is most concerned with the fate of St. Ann's Well, which is set at the edge of the woods and slated for destruction. People have been coming to St. Ann's for generations to share their dreams and fears, and speak their prayers. Some believe it to be a place of true spiritual power, demanding protection; others think it's a mere magnet for superstitions, easily sacrificed. Not knowing which faction to favor, Father Flynn listens to all those caught up in the conflict, and these are the voices we hear in the stories of Whitethorn Woods--men and women deciding between the traditions of the past and the promises of the future, ordinary people brought vividly to life by Binchy's generosity and empathy, and in the vivacity and surprise of her storytelling.
Maeve Binchy is at the very top of her form in this irresistible tale.
A proposed highway near the Irish town of Rossmore will mean the destruction of St. Ann's Well, a shrine in Whitethorn Woods thought to deliver healing, husbands and other miracles. The shrine resides in the parish of Fr. Brian Flynn, curate of St. Augustine's. As a fracas erupts between shrine skeptics who want the highway and shrine believers who want the shrine preserved, Flynn, unsure of where he stands on the issue and questioning his place in an increasingly secular Ireland, goes to the shrine and prays that he might "hear the voices that have come to you and know who these people are." Binchy (Tara Road) goes on to deliver just that: a panoply of prosaic but richly drawn first-person characters, such as Neddy Nolan, a not-so-simple simpleton; 60-something Vera, who finds love on a singles trip meant for those much younger; and unassuming antiques magnate James, whose wife of 26 years is dying. Stories of greed, infidelity, mental illness, incest, the joys of being single, the struggles of modern career women, alcoholism, and the heartbreak of parenting span generations, simply and poignantly. Binchy takes it all in and orchestrates the whole masterfully. 400,000 announced first printing. (Mar.) Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 05, 2007
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Excerpt from Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy
Father Brian Flynn, the curate at St. Augustine's, Rossmore, hated the Feast Day of St. Ann with a passion that was unusual for a Catholic priest. But then, as far as he knew he was the only priest in the world who had a thriving St. Ann's well in his parish, a holy shrine of dubious origin. A place where parishioners gathered to ask the mother of the Virgin Mary to intercede for them in a variety of issues, mainly matters intimate and personal. Areas where a clodhopping priest wouldn't be able to tread. Like finding them a fiance, or a husband, and then blessing that union with a child.
Rome was, as usual, unhelpfully silent about the well.
Rome was probably hedging its bets, Father Flynn thought grimly, over there they must be pleased that there was any pious practice left in an increasingly secular Ireland and not wishing to discourage it. Yet had not Rome been swift to say that pagan rituals and superstitions had no place in the Body of Faith? It was a puzzlement, as Jimmy, that nice young doctor from Doon village, a few miles out, used to say. He said it was exactly the same in medicine: you never got a ruling when you wanted one, only when you didn't need one at all.
There used to be a ceremony on July 26 every year, where people came from far and near to pray and to dress the well with garlands and flowers. Father Flynn was invariably asked to say a few words, and every year he agonized over it. He could not say to these people that it was very near to idolatry to have hundreds of people battling their way toward a chipped statue in the back of a cave beside an old well in the middle of the Whitethorn Woods.
From what he had read and studied, St. Ann and her husband, St. Joachim, were shadowy figures, quite possibly confused in stories with Hannah in the Old Testament, who was thought to be forever childless but eventually bore Samuel. Whatever else St. Ann may have done in her lifetime two thousand years ago, she certainly had not visited Rossmore in Ireland, found a place in the woods and established a holy well that had never run dry.
That much was fairly definite.
But try telling it to some of the people in Rossmore and you were in trouble. So he stood there every year, mumbling a decade of the rosary, which couldn't offend anyone, and preaching a little homily about goodwill and tolerance and kindness to neighbors, which fell on mainly deaf ears.
Father Flynn often felt he had quite enough worries of his own without having to add St. Ann and her credibility to the list. His mother's health had been an increasing worry to them all, and the day was rapidly approaching when she could no longer live alone. His sister, Judy, had written to say that although Brian might have chosen the single, celibate life, she certainly had not. Everyone at work was either married or gay. Dating services had proved to be full of psychopaths, evening classes were where you met depressive losers; she was going to come to the well near Rossmore and ask St. Ann to get on her case.
His brother, Eddie, had left his wife, Kitty, and their four children to find himself. Brian had gone to look for Eddie--who now found himself nicely installed with Naomi, a girl twenty years younger than the abandoned wife--and had got little thanks for his concern.
"Just because you're not any kind of a normal man at all, it doesn't mean that the rest of us have to take a vow of celibacy," Eddie had said, laughing into his face.
Brian Flynn felt a great weariness. He thought that he was in fact a normal man. Of course he had desired women, but he had made a bargain. The rules, at the moment, said if he were to be a priest then there must be no marriage, no children, no good, normal family life.