Book Review: Maeve’s Times

On Maeve Binchy

It struck me the other day, as Maeve Binchy whisked me off the Luas and into an abortion clinic in London – via Maeve’s Times, a collection of her articles during an almost 50 year tenure at the paper of record, just how much her influence has waned amongst her present day contemporaries. Not the chic-lit writers who, for the most part, have curdled the genre she conquered with her absorbing and heartening stories.

Rather, it’s the columnists that have licked out the flame of her penny candle and blown smoke into the face of their readers. Maeve, we know, was a warm and funny writer, but above all else, she was a human being, with a keen interest in all she espied.

She’d have hated that. “Write as you speak,” she would have told me had I ever had the pleasure of meeting her. But flicking through the 90 plus articles assembled by her colleague Róisín Ingle, you can almost taste the tang of Tanqueray as she spilled the bars on everything from her latest scrape with a scalpel (Maeve’s Operation: The Whole Story) to her hunt for the perfect bra (enlisting the Queen’s corsetieres in Fit for a Queen) to her battle with invading Ants (Bleach Sniffers at my Desk). She found the comic gas in the most mundane situation and excavated it for our merriment. But while the snits and giggles warm you up, she unearths the whole kit and caboodle of human emotions, from consternation, to anxiety, self-doubt and self-regard, to really make you glow.

You’ll titter away as you dip in and out of this far reaching collection. Binchy does a bang up job lacerating herself and her foibles, so we warm to her so that, when she ushers us in to situations we shouldn’t be, to observe for ourselves the real life that’s never spoken about, we trust that she isn’t suddenly going to belt us in the face with a purse bejeweled in her righteous indignation.

She elucidates but never pontificates as best illustrated in some of the collections finest moments. Anna’s Abortion from 1977, neither demonises nor cannonises the characters in this self-explanatory tale, taking a considered tack sadly lacking from many of the chroniclers in the present day debate. While 1983’s Contraceptive Conversation ridicules the fundamentalism of the right without mocking the core of their beliefs.

You’re free to be yourself in Maeve’s company, allowing her to help you experience the world at large on your own terms, though through the eyes of another. In an age when the snarkiest spice flavours the agenda it’s remarkable how long lasting the effects of a truthful tongue are.

Reviewed by Caomhan Keane