Light a Penny Candle lulled me into a false sense of security before Echoes came along to pull the rug out from under me.
I was so excited after reading Light a Penny Candle. I gushed about a book published in the ’80s about the ’40s that didn’t age poorly. This is not the case with Echoes; it was impossible to get used to the rampant sexism. And it wasn’t just the expected ‘this book takes place in the ’50s so men have jobs (and affairs) and women are housewives‘ sexism. It was deep, dark, disturbing, and no one was safe. One of the most progressive women in this narrative had this lovely thought when she learned her brother had left the church to start a family with a woman:
"poor, poor Sean, how desperate, with only one life to lead, and finding it empty. Led on and seduced by this Japanese woman with no religion and no morals. To her, a priest was the same as anyone else; she would have no idea what a sin it was, and what a terrible decision Sean had to make."
I did a literal doubletake after reading these sentences. It’s bad enough that this thought exists in the world, let alone to stumble upon it in a book when it’s not expected. It was only 14% of the way through Echoes, and it was like it opened the dam, and the narrative continued to pile on for the rest of the book, never getting any better. Unfortunately, it was impossible to separate the story from this toxic mindset.
Angela’s perspective should have been the only one in this story. Aside from that one quote above, she really was a much needed progressive voice in this narrative. Unapologetically herself at all times, Angela was unfailingly kind and generous but refreshingly genuine. Not always perfect, she often responds with a harsh or thoughtless comment. However, when she realises her misstep, she’s never reluctant to apologise or make things right.
Unfortunately, Angela is not the only perspective we get. David is weak and much more like the mother he despises than the father he respects. Clare was a promising young, intelligent voice until she gave up under the weight of societal and familial expectations. Gerry is shallow, shortsighted, and predictable. They come together to paint a picture of this small town in Ireland in the ’50s that is far from idyllic.
So far in my (re)-exploration of Binchy’s work, Echoes is my least favourite, and I sincerely hope I don’t have to slog through another tome that’s worse. It’s okay to write a stinker once in a while, but let’s keep them to like 300 pages, not 750.