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Heart and Soul
Synopses & Reviews
With the insight, humor, and compassion we have come to expect from her, Maeve Binchy tells a story of family, friends, patients, and staff who are part of a heart clinic in a community caught between the old and the new Ireland.
Dr. Clara Casey has been offered the thankless job of establishing the underfunded clinic and agrees to take it on for a year. She has plenty on her plate already—two difficult adult daughters and the unwanted attentions of her ex-husband—but she assembles a wonderfully diverse staff devoted to helping their demanding, often difficult patients.
Before long the clinic is established as an essential part of the community, and Clara must decide whether or not to leave a place where lives are saved, courage is rewarded, and humor and optimism triumph over greed and self-pity.
Heart and Soul is Maeve Binchy at her storytelling best.
"Binchy delivers another delightful Binchyesque amalgamation of intersecting lives, this time centering on Clara Casey, a cardiologist whose marriage and career have fallen apart. After she accepts an undesirable post at St. Brigid's Hospital, Clara throws herself into work to forget the humiliation of her husband's many affairs, but it's difficult to escape her home life with two adult daughters who still depend on her as if they were children. Though she stands at the center of the book, Clara cedes the stage to others, such as Declan Carroll, a young doctor at the clinic trying to make a life for himself, and Ania, Clara's assistant, whose affair with a married man forced her to leave her Polish hometown. Beautiful, hardworking and humble, Ania attracts the attention of Carl Walsh, the son of one of the clinic's patients. And so it goes in this novel of intersecting lives that keeps daily drama interesting even when it occasionally sacrifices suspense for realism. In spite of a few dull moments, the collective, charming effect of these story lines suggests that individuals are more connected than they might think." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
You don't have to be Irish — or wait for St. Patrick's Day — to give these entertaining novels by Maeve Binchy and Frank Delaney a try. Binchy's latest, "Heart and Soul," begins with the establishment of St. Brigid's heart clinic, a small, self-contained community within Dublin. Clara Casey, a cardiologist whose complex personal life includes a pair of difficult daughters and a... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) philandering ex-husband, agrees to run the fledgling clinic for a single year and begins the process of recruiting a suitable staff. The intertwined stories of these doctors and nurses, together with the patients who come to rely on them, form the substance of this likable, sometimes frustrating book. Binchy is adept at juggling multiple story lines and creating genuine drama out of the quotidian problems of life: illness, accidents, misunderstandings, romantic and sexual betrayal. Her work reflects a pervasive generosity of spirit and projects a reassuring quality that is, I think, a central element of her enduring popularity. Binchy believes, with bedrock certainty, that people who possess the necessary measure of good sense, goodwill and energy can overcome, or learn to endure, whatever comes their way. That can be a potent — and very welcome — message. Ultimately, the linked stories in "Heart and Soul" constitute an ongoing account of "battles ... fought and won," of crippling circumstances, like the illnesses that afflict the patients at St. Brigid's, brought slowly but inevitably under human control. All this might resonate more powerfully if the writing were more distinguished. Unfortunately, Binchy's language — both dialogue and prose — is rarely more than workmanlike and efficient. At its worst, it descends to the level of low-rent romance fiction. When a priest confronts a deranged young woman, his "big, honest face was aghast at her cunning." A pair of conspiring matchmakers succeed "beyond their wildest dreams." Speaking of her ailing husband, one woman declares: "If anything happened to Aidan, I would not want to live. ... I couldn't bear a day or night without him now and without seeing his dear face." Despite such lapses, this good-hearted, otherwise quite readable novel offers many honest pleasures and deserves the success it will no doubt achieve. Like Binchy, Frank Delaney is a middling stylist but an engaging, often compelling storyteller. His best-selling epic, "Ireland" (2005), recapitulates the nation's history though the songs and stories of a wandering bard. His latest, "Shannon," is considerably narrower in scope, focusing on the gradual healing of a single damaged soul during the troubled summer of 1922. The title refers both to the long, meandering river that dominates the Irish landscape and to the novel's deeply disturbed protagonist, Robert Shannon. Father Shannon has come to Ireland in the hope of recovering from two distinct crises: his experiences as a chaplain in World War I, which left him traumatized and virtually catatonic, and his subsequent encounter with corruption at the highest levels of the archdiocese of Boston. He arrives in Ireland at a crucial historical moment: The Irish Civil War, a byproduct of the divisive Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, has just broken out, and the countryside is up in arms. Against this backdrop of political strife and imminent personal danger, Shannon travels up and down the river, searching for his family's roots and for the sense of spiritual coherence that disappeared in the trenches of France. Delaney handles Shannon's therapeutic journey with sympathy and skill, introducing a diverse cast of Irish characters and layering the narrative with the sort of arcane native lore — historical, cultural and geographic — that adds a welcome depth of background to the central story. His descriptions of the condition once known as shell shock are detailed and convincing, though his obvious affection for his suffering hero sometimes leads to simplistic overstatement. For example, he describes the young, prewar Father Shannon as a man "incapable of anything but good," a daunting claim to make on anyone's behalf. A more serious problem is the introduction of a dubious — and lengthy — subplot involving a hired killer dispatched to Ireland to prevent Father Shannon from divulging what he knows about corrupt practices in America's Catholic hierarchy. This unfortunate turn toward melodrama undermines the narrative for long, unnecessary stretches but doesn't quite destroy it. In the end, Delaney holds his flawed creation together through his considerable narrative gifts and his unapologetic belief in human decency and the healing power of the past. Reviewed by Bill Sheehan, who is the author of 'At the Foot of the Story Tree', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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About the Author
Maeve Binchy is the author of numerous best-selling books, including her most recent novel, Whitethorn Woods, in addition to Nights of Rain and Stars, Quentins, Scarlet Feather, Circle of Friends, and Tara Road, which was an Oprah Book Club selection. She has written for Gourmet; O, The Oprah Magazine; and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. She and her husband, Gordon Snell, live in Dalkey, Ireland, and London.
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