Each of Maeve Binchy’s books has a simple charm about it – from Circle of Friends to Scarlet Feather to Quentin’s and now A Week in Winter.
There is always a desire to spend more time with her characters, all the more poignant this time as readers are carried away by her storytelling, since this is her final novel (she passed away shortly after completing work on the book).
The overall setting for the novel is the small Irish coastal town of Stoneybridge. It is an unlikely vacation spot, set near the windswept Atlantic Ocean. Yet main character Chicky Starr decides to defy the odds and turn a decaying old mansion into just that – a vacation destination. She is encouraged by Queenie Sheedy, the last remaining owner and resident of the mansion, who shared it for many years with her two sisters.
With much hard work, and very little encouragement from some townspeople, Stone House, as the mansion is called, eventually becomes a welcoming cocoon of warmth, delicious food and relaxed pampering.
In addition to Miss Sheedy, unlikely helpers include Rigger, a bad boy who proves immensely useful and Orla, Chicky’s niece whose business sense brings the mansion into modern times.
When Stone House opens for business in the dead of winter, its first guests arrive to spend a week. There is John, an American film star who thinks no one recognizes him; Winnie and Lillian, an unlikely travel duo thrown together by a mutual love; Nicola and Henry, doctors whose careers and lives have been shaken by tragedy; Anders, a Swedish man questioning his loyalty to his father’s business; Miss Nell Howe, a retired schoolteacher with a terrible attitude; the Walls, who’ve won the vacation as a second prize in a contest and consider it a letdown before even arriving; and Freda, a psychic librarian.
It is the telling of each of their back stories and the way they are interwoven into this moment at Stoneybridge that, as always, is the essence of Binchy’s magical storytelling.
At the beginning of each chapter when a new character is presented, one wonders, “How is this person going to find his or her way to Stoneybridge?” Yet they do, after their own personal tale of life is revealed.
Binchy’s novels aren’t action-packed. They are not overly dramatic. They are not blockbuster hits-in-waiting. But they are mesmerizing, touching and above all, human. They touch the heart and imagination.
By the end of this book, readers will wish they could spend another week or more in Stoneybridge.
Enjoy this one. Storytelling of Binchy’s caliber is rare and sadly the literary world lost a major, heartwarming talent.