The chaotic events of World War II find a shy young English girl in Ireland under the care of the wild and boisterous O’Connor family. It is through them that she meets the young lady destined to become her best friend and together they will endure years of change, joy, sorrow, soaring dreams, bitter betrayals, and an unbreakable bond that nothing could tear asunder.
I figured it was time for some Maeve Binchy rereads. There are so many overlapping characters and storylines I can never remember which books I have and haven’t read before, so this will be a good way to set them straight. Light a Penny Candle is a new one for me, and I loved it.
Binchy writes light stories about big subjects. Even with war, alcoholism, and death, the narrative remains chatty and easy to read. And for over 800 pages, it certainly flies. I don’t know many other books this length that feel this short. It’s almost a stream of consciousness, switching effortlessly between different perspectives and jumping through time with indifference. At times it can be confusing – taking a sentence or two to realise there’s been a change in narrator or time – but it also helps to keep the story flowing.
Elizabeth and Aisling are entirely different people who face many of the same challenges and life experiences. I love their bond and how easily Elizabeth is accepted into the O’Connor family. After their time together during the war, she is one of them. The female friendship here survives strain and separation without the aid of modern technology to bring them closer. It’s an excellent model for accepting people for who they are and supporting them for it. I loved both of their personalities. Elizabeth can see the bright side of anything and is always willing to work hard and pursue her goals – even if others are trying to dissuade her. Aisling is brave and outspoken, but she’s also incredibly kind and loyal. Their friendship could have dissolved or crumbled at any time, but their dedication to one another is evident.
It shouldn’t have to be said, but it was refreshing to read a book published in the ’80s that hasn’t aged poorly. Light a Penny Candle feels like historical fiction that could’ve been written within the last twenty years; the women are strong and independent, the topics addressed still seem relevant, and there’s no overt racism. What more can you ask for from a book published forty years ago, taking place eighty years ago?
This is Binchy’s first published book, and it’s a wonderful debut. Character-driven, the slow-burn narrative was difficult to put down, which is surprising for its length. I never knew where the story was heading next, but I was excited to find out, and it’s making me glad I’ve got so much more Binchy to work my way through.