It was the quiet ones you had to watch. That’s where the real passion was lurking.
They came together at Mountainview College, a down-at-the-heels secondary school on the seamy side of Dublin, to take a course in Italian. It was Latin teacher Aidan Dunne’s last chance to revive a failing marriage and a dead-end career. But Aidan’s dream was headed for disaster until the mysterious Signora appeared, transforming a shared passion for Italy into a life-altering adventure for them all…bank clerk Bill and his dizzy fiancé Lizzie: a couple headed for trouble…Kathy, a hardworking innocent propelled into adulthood in a shocking moment of truth…Connie, the gorgeous rich lady with a scandal ready to explode…glowering Lou, who joined the class as a cover for crime. And Signora, whose passionate past remained a secret as she changed all their lives forever….
Finally! This is the Binchy I remember and why I started reading through all of her books. This is the first time I recognised characters that appear in other books – the first reference of Brenda and Patrick from Quentin’s made me so happy. It also felt much less like short stories. While each chapter focuses on a different character, their lives overlap more, so it doesn’t feel like you’re cut off from each one at the end of the chapter.
Aidan was a bit of a dunce. I mean, he’s a well-meaning, helpful person, but he’s certainly not the brightest. His wife is totally remote and barely involved in his life, and he never questions it – he’s much more interested in Tony’s life and relationships. It seems a bit like willful ignorance.
I didn’t particularly like Nora at first – she comes off as pretty pathetic, following a married man to a small town in a country where she doesn’t speak the language and is entirely alone. Over time, her gentle, unassuming nature won me over, though. The way she floats through life could be incredibly obnoxious if she weren’t consistently helping those around her. Nora certainly adds more good to the world than she takes, and while she seems very laissez-faire, she proves that she can stand up for herself when needed.
I was pretty apathetic towards Lizzie but felt sorry for Bill. Lizzie seems to be leading him on because she thinks he’ll be rich one day, while Bill appears to believe she will turn over a new leaf and become thrifty any moment. So many red flags in this relationship.
I wish there had been more about Kathy and Fran – they number among the few without some form of closure. There was a wonderful arc here exploring their relationship, which was complicated and beautiful and developed in a refreshingly unique direction.
Lou was a bit of a non-entity, dense and oblivious to how much damage his ‘being observant and in the right place‘ mantra caused. By refusing to acknowledge the big picture, he always seems surprised when others aren’t so keen to embrace the criminal lifestyle. He also only seems to do nice things for others if he has an ulterior motive.
Connie was simultaneously heartbreaking and inspirational. she has such foresight as to what she wants out of life, and starts making smart decisions early on to escape the life her mother has. I love how strong she is to make the decisions necessary to ensure stability for herself and her children. When Connie discovers wrongdoing, she always makes the right choice, even if she technically doesn’t have to, or probably shouldn’t. While her calm logic is impressive, it broke my heart that she had to so often. I want so much more for her.
Laddy is sweet and simple and felt more like a backdrop for the incredible people in his life. Poor Rose has to deal with so. much. Every time you think things couldn’t get worse for her, they do. And I loved how strong, consistent, and supportive Gus and Maggie are for Laddy. Even everyone in the Italian class looks out for Laddy, acting as a surrogate family at times. He stumbles into many situations that could end terribly but work out for everyone involved, primarily due to his kind, generous nature.
Fiona went from being a complete pushover to pretty manipulative – there’s planning, and then there’s planning everyone’s lives without their awareness. While she uses her powers for good, it’s always her idea of what should happen, not considering what would be best for other people. Fiona deserves to be happy after feeling lonely and ignored for so long, but I don’t understand her choice to pick Barry – right place at the right time, I guess? They’re a strange match, and he seems pretty sexist and dismissive a lot of the time. What I did like was Fiona’s friendship with Grania and Brigid – they’re brutally honest with each other and seem to truly support each other.
I have to say, very few people in Binchy’s books remain faithful to their partners. There are what – three different couples in Evening Class with at least one partner committing adultery? Well, technically, four:
if you consider that Siobhan thought Harry was only having an affair with her when he had several partners…
Maybe my awareness of 90s Ireland is limited (well, it is…), but there seems to be a lot of cheating involved. Couples in Binchy novels should be forewarned.
I loved how much the narrative overlapped throughout each chapter – no restrictive POVs here, the perspective flip-flops as needed so that everyone can keep updating the reader with their relationships, feelings, and lives. It made for a more harmonious story than some of Binchy’s earlier works which felt more like short story collections than novels. I’m hoping this means that her books are more like this moving forward.