“Love, exciting and new
Come aboard, we’re expecting you
Love, life’s sweetest reward
Let it flow, it floats back to you
Love Boat soon will be making another run
The Love Boat promises something for everyone
Set a course for adventure
Your mind on a new romance
And love won’t hurt anymore
It’s an open smile on a friendly shore
(Lyrics from The Love Boat theme song)
With the flavor of the popular, old American TV series from the 70s and 80s (although not necessarily the romance), A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy explores the lives of the guests who appear for a week’s visit at a rustic inn in a fictional western Ireland coastal town called Stoneybridge. Each of the visitors has a story to tell and as the week progresses, they find some sort of resolution to their dilemmas. The owner and workers are not exempt from this psychological examination, as they, too, have a bit of mystery surrounding their lives. Nothing too exciting, just a bit of this and a bit of that, to make for an entertaining time. One wonders if Binchy intended to write a sequel, either exploring what happens next, or simply bringing forward another weeks worth of visitors, but we’ll never know since she died shortly after finishing this book.
Chicky Starr, the owner of the renovated home turned destination guest house, is perhaps the most compelling character. To the horror of her parents, she falls in love and runs off with a transient American globe trotter who brings her to NYC where they live a carefree lifestyle along with other devil may care youth until he decides to move on (he always was upfront about never intending to marry) leaving her behind. However, for her the adventure was not a lark, and she is beside herself, almost destitute. Luckily she ends up working at a Bed and Breakfast run by a fellow countryman where she works hard and finds her place in life. Yet something is missing, the pull from home is strong. Of course, she has maintained a correspondence with her family and, to stop their harping, lied about a marriage which was never to happen. She decides to use her savings to regularly visit Ireland, finding renewal from the beautiful, but rugged shoreline, eventually coming home for good after “the mister” is tragically killed in an alleged car accident. Joining the remaining sister of a trio of spinsters who owned a beautiful, but dilapidated mansion on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, they mutually decide to totally renovate the aptly named Stone House, returning it to its originally glory, then opening a Bread and Breakfast so others can find the peace and fulfillment the area has always brought to the two companions.
Throughout the book, each chapter thoroughly inspects the lives of the caretakers and guests making the reader feel they know each individual intimately, thus rooting for a successful resolution to their various issues. Binchy has a way with words, making even the most mundane of interest. The guests include a husband and wife who are doctors in need of a change, a retired school mistress who is friendless and alone, a mother and potential daughter-in-law who pretend to be friends despite their inherent dislike for one another, an American movie star who is at a crossroads in his career, a dutiful son unhappily stuck at his father’s business when he would rather be pursuing a different path, a woman with psychic tendencies who continually rejected her own visions regarding her love interest’s marriage until the truth could no longer be ignored, and a sulky couple who feel they have been gypped out of a dream vacation in Paris. Along with tales of the locals, including Chicky’s niece, Orla, who leaves the busy life in London to find repose back home with her aunt, and Riggie, the wayward son of a local girl who is able to turn his life around after getting involved with the wrong crowd in Dublin, the book takes on a folksy tone, as the reader feels they are part of the crowd gathered around the hearth hearing intimacies of old friends and family. A sweet little read. Four stars.