I've only read a couple of Maeve Binchy novels in my lifetime--the classic Circle of Friends, of course, and I think maybe The Glass Lake. Ever since Binchy's death last summer, I've had it in the back of my mind to read something else by her. When I spotted A Week in Winter at my library, I picked it up thinking it would be perfect as both a Maeve Binchy fix and as an appropriate read during these last weeks of winter.
Her final novel, published posthumously, A Week in Winter centers around Stone House, a small but luxurious hotel in a rural village on the coast of Western Ireland. In the course of the novel, we meet various characters who come to Stone House for different reasons: Chicky Starr, the hotel's proprietress, who, after twenty years in New York, returns to Ireland with secrets in tow; Orla, Chicky's niece, who comes to help her run the business; and Rigger, the son of Chicky's girlhood friend, who she takes in as the hotel's handyman and manager to help him escape a criminal past. We also meet the group of guests who come to stay at Stone House during its opening week, a diverse group made up of young and old, couples and singles, and even an incognito American movie star. Each of the hotel's staff members and guests come to Stone House bearing some kind of personal burden, and each subsequently finds that his or her time there magically relieves them of their problems.
This is exactly the kind of cozy, feel good novel that I would expect from Maeve Binchy. However, it also feels a bit unfinished. Each chapter tells the story of a different character and, although they share the common setting of Stone House, and common characters and events surround them, they read more like discrete short stories in which each character's tale is introduced and then wrapped up in about twenty pages or so. It made me wonder if Binchy had planned to due subsequent revisions to weave all of the characters' stories together, but passed away before she the chance. And in general, some of the stories had the feel of something that was written by an aging author. Although set in the present day, the modern details that pepper them are dealt with in ways that seem just a little bit old fashioned.
While this isn't a bad book, if you find yourself in the mood to read some Maeve Binchy, going back to one of her earlier, classic novels might be the better bet.