Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Binchy deliver[s] a panoply of richly drawn first-person characters....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." Publishers Weekly
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Whitethorn Woods is Binchy's best read in a decade....In Binchy's hands the old progress-versus-tradition story takes on new life....Binchy weaves an absorbing web of stories. Elizabeth Grove-White, Toronto Globe and Mail
"Binchy astounds with the versatility of the supplicants' voices, from the diabolical machinations of a mother whose daughter has committed murder to the sad serenity of another whose child was kidnapped decades earlier. Binchy is at her best in this tender yet potent tale of a traditional land and people threatened and challenged by the forces of change." Booklist
"An enjoyable peek into other people's thoughts, this new novel by a beloved author will make a good book group choice." Library Journal
When a new highway is planned that will bypass the town of Rossmore and cut through Whitethorn Woods, the town's inhabitants are divided on whether or not the town will benefit or suffer from the construction, while Father Flynn worries about the fate of St. Ann's Well, an age-old shrine on the edge of the woods that is slated for destruction. Reader's Guide available. 400,000 first printing.
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, a spiritual mecca in the path of the planned construction.
About the Author
Maeve Binchy is the author of numerous best-selling books, including Nights of Rain and Stars, Quentins, Scarlet Feather, Circle of Friends, and Tara Road, which was an Oprah's Book Club selection. She has written for Gourmet; O, The Oprah Magazine; Modern Maturity; and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. She and her husband, Gordon Snell, live in Dalkey, Ireland, and London.
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the observations Father Flynn makes about religion in the first chapter. Although his concerns and frustrations are specific to the Catholic Church, what do they reveal about the struggles clergy of every religion face today? Beyond preserving religious traditions and rites (“people still had to be baptized, given first Communion, have their confessions heard; they needed to be married and buried” [p. 6]), do religious institutions have a meaningful role to play in the twenty-first century? If so, are they fulfilling this role?
2. Neddy Nolan begins his narrative by saying, “Nobody expects too much from Soft Neddy so I more or less get away with my way of looking at things” (p.20). How do the various stories he tells about himselffrom the incident with Nora to his life in London to his marriage to Clarereflect the contrast between the perceptions of others and Neddys own way of looking at things? What advantages does his seeming lack of sophistication give him?
3. In describing her childhood, Clare says, “I was both proud and ashamed when I was a schoolgirl. Proud that I was able to stay out of my uncles messy clutches. And ashamed because I came from a family that wouldnt look after me but left me to fight my own battles against things I didnt understand” (p. 32). Do you think this reaction is common among abused children? How does the combination of fear and pride shape Clare, both as a child and as a young woman out on her own?
4. The stories of Vera and Sharon provide a lighthearted look at love and romance through the perspectives of two generations. How does Binchy bring to life the idiosyncrasies of love at different stages in our lives? In what ways do the stories speak, as well, to the timeless needs, desires, and hopes that underlie the search for love?
5. Friendship takes center stage in “Malka” and “Rivka.” Why has Binchy chosen Israel, a setting far from home for both protagonists, as the meeting place for the women? Would these two women have become friends in either Ireland or America, their respective homelands? What role do the womens less-than-perfect marriages play in their deep attachment to and dependence on each other? Do you agree with Rivkas opinion that “friendship was better than love in a way, it was more generous” (p. 79)?
6. What was your initial reaction to “Becca”? Were you surprised to come upon this chilling story? Does the portrait of Gabrielle (pp. 101112) change your understanding of Beccas horrific act? What do the two stories represent in terms of the themes of the novel and the fictional world Binchy is creating?In “Barbara” and “Someone from Dads Office,” Binchy explores the transformations that occur when people see one another in unfamiliar contexts. What factors shape the assumptions Barbara and her coworkers make about one another in the office? What parallels are there between the way the narrator views his father in “Someone from Dads Office” and the way adults form their opinions in “Barbara”? Do you think the new relationships among the characters will last, or will the old patterns inevitably reemerge?
7. In “Barbara” and “Someone from Dads Office,” Binchy explores the transformations that occur when people see one another in unfamiliar contexts. What factors shape the assumptions Barbara and her coworkers make about one another in the office? What parallels are there between the way the narrator views his father in “Someone from Dads Office” and the way adults form their opinions in “Barbara”? Do you think the new relationships among the characters will last, or will the old patterns inevitably reemerge?
8. “Dr. Dermot” and “Chesters Plan” focus on the transition from the past to the present (and the future), and its impact on individuals and communities. What specific details and observations in the stories highlight common reactions to change and progress? Discuss, for example, how the conflict between Dr. Dermot and Dr. White represents more than the clash of two personalities and two different styles of practicing medicine. In what ways does Chester Kovac epitomize the image that people in other countries have of Americans and how this image affects his interactions with the local population?
9. What do Helens and Jamess separate accounts reveal about the nature of marriage and the ties that bind people together? How does Binchy treat Helens act of desperation and its repercussions? Does she make moral judgments, or does she leave this up to the reader?
10. June and Lucky are the youngest narrators in Whitethorn Woods. What do their perspectives reflect about the significance of roots and of family in contemporary times? What insights do they offer into the complicated terrain of mother-daughter relationships?
11. Binchy paints a wry portrait of courtship in “Emer” and “Hugo.” What distinguishes Binchys take on modern romance from the stories told in popular movies, on television, and in “chick-lit” novels? In what ways are the characters, and the way the plot unfolds, reminiscent of traditional fairy tales?
12. What expectations and assumptionsemotional, psychological, and societallie at the heart of the relationship between Pearl and her adult children? Is Pearls willingness to make excuses for her children naïve, or does it reflect a universal maternal instinct? What does it say about John and Amy that they ignore or are ashamed of their roots? And what does it reveal about Linda's character that she breaks up with John? What do the characters self-deceptions and pretenses demonstrate about family dynamics in general?
13. Poppys tale and her sisters complementary account deal with the same, straightforward “facts,” but make very different impressions on the reader. At the conclusion of her story, Jane asks, “Was it at all possible that Poppy could have been right? Poppy, whose skin had never been cherished, whose hair had never been styled and whose wardrobe was a joke, a bad joke. Surely Poppy couldnt have discovered the secret of life? That would be too unfair for words” (p. 268). To what extent does Poppy represent humanitys most admirable qualities and values? In what ways does she fall short of your definition of the “ideal” person?
14. In “Pandora” and “Bruisers Business” Binchy uses the everyday interactions at a beauty parlor to shed light on the secrets, misunderstandings, and false assumptions that too often rule peoples behavior. How does Binchy both use and defy conventional stereotypes (about class, marriage, and sexual preference, for example) to make her characters real, believable individuals?
15. Why are the stories of Melanie and Caroline coupled under the heading “The Intelligence Test”? What characteristics link the protagonists and their attempts to establish independent, meaningful lives? Were you satisfied with the way the conflicts were resolved?
16. Several of the stories in Whitethorn Woods deal with marriage and the way husbands and wives communicate with each other; others explore the relationships between parents and children and among siblings. What do the intricacies of family life tell us about human nature in general? In what ways does the novel deepen your understanding of what constitutes a good marriage and family?
17. The cast of characters includes simple country people, educated and sophisticated people, believers and skeptics. Which characters deal most successfully with the changes in their personal lives and the changes coming to Rossmore? In what ways do their stories redefine and add a new, modern meaning to the concept of faith?