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~Circle of Friends~

by Maeve Binchy

      Heroines: Varied

      They seemed like two unlikely allies: the small, quick, pixie-like convent-raised orphan Eve Malone and the large, ungainly, sheltered Benny Hogan.  But they recognized in each other a fierce need for true friendship and became each other's guardian angel.

      The two stood as fast friends for eight years in the tiny village of Knockglen, and when the time came for Benny to go off to Dublin to University, Eve made sure to find a way to be there also, even though it meant asking for money from the people she most despised in the world.

      There in the big city, Eve and Benny meet others like themselves and expand their numbers til they are truly a large "Circle of Friends".  And it is there in Dublin that Benny and Eve discover what true friendship is, and see each other through first love, betrayal, and heartbreak.

      What worked for me:

    It was very hard not to become involved in the lives of these characters.  Even those just passing through managed to bring a tear or two to my eyes.  And while I was happy that Benny and Eve eventually found their places in the world, I was sad to leave them at the end of the book and would have loved to have heard more about their lives.

     Size-wise the women in the story were all very different.  But Benny, the character who was on center stage most of the time, was a girl of good size.  She was frequently referred to as "a great horse of a girl", "a little barrel", and "Big Ben" by the more thoughtless people in her life, and it was impossible not to share the pain those comments brought to her.

What didn't work for me:    

      Usually if there is a problem in the writing craft of a story, I not only pick up on it but it will grate on my nerves and pull me out of the book.  However, Maeve Binchy breaks some of the hard and fast rules of writing, and yet my eyes frequently pass over these occasional technical flaws simply because the characters have drawn me so deeply into their story that I read too quickly to catch whatever mistakes there may be.

        It was one thing to leave Benny and Eve knowing that they had more or less gotten their lives together, but I couldn't help but feel perturbed that I was left without confirmation that the most fatally-flawed characters in the book had indeed learned their lessons.


     "Circle of Friends" is an epic saga about coming-of-age in the sheltered world of 1950s Ireland.  It may be a bit slow-paced for some readers, but I thought it was well worth it.

      If you liked "Circle of Friends" you might also enjoy: "Tara Road", "Last Chance Saloon", and "The Saving Graces".

     Note:  There is also a film version of "Circle of Friends".

      While I thought that the cinematic vision of Benny's story was beautiful to see and certainly very well-cast, the translation lost something when it went from book to screen.  It was unfortunate that the producers felt the need to rewrite the plot into a more pat Americanized version in which they glossed over the flaws inherent in some of the characters, taking away their responsibilities for their actions and making them instead victims of their own destinies.

       Ultimately, the movie was a feast for the eyes and ears, but the book was food for the soul.

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