Ethereal Reader: A Week in Winter

searchHow can you go wrong when you’re writing a book that takes place in a bed and breakfast high on the cliffs of a small Irish village overlooking the sea where you can hear the crashing of the waves from your bedroom window?

Unfortunately, I think Maeve Binchy went wrong with A Week in Winter.

I think her idea was clever. A Week in Winter is a story about seven people or couples who, under varying circumstances, visit a bed and breakfast operated by Stoneybridge native Chicky Ryan the same week one winter. In fact, it is the first week that the B&B is open for business. Each chapter is really more of a vignette – a separate story of these individuals and couples, a snapshot of their lives, background on how they ended up and the B&B and a bit about how each one impacts the others. I think the concept had potential.

Unfortunately, I found the characters to be entirely interchangeable and their stories excruciatingly boring. While their backgrounds were decidedly different, their dialogue was similar and the way their stories were presented to the readers was exactly the same for each character.

I have never read anything else by Maeve Binchy, so I can’t compare A Week in Winter to her other books. That is perhaps unfortunate, because I really didn’t enjoy this book very much. I would like to know if it was just this particular book or if I just don’t like Binchy’s writing.

I tried to look at Binchy’s writing as Irish storytelling. Everyone knows that no one can tell a story like the Irish. Her writing reminded me of someone sitting down and telling me a story. There was very little dialogue, for example. I’m just sorry to say that I didn’t find any of her stories interesting.

For example:

I found Winnie’s willingness to put up with her boyfriend’s wishy-washiness deplorable. And of course she could have gotten out of that vacation with his predictably obnoxious mother. Pleeeeease.

Have there ever been characters who were more self-absorbed and whiny than the Walls? I must admit, however, I did find the story line about their preoccupation and subsequent success with contests to be one of the more interesting of the book. I just didn’t like them.

John/Corry was a caricature as was Miss Nell Howe.

I even was annoyed at the story line surrounding Chicky Ryan. I simply didn’t find it realistic that she could carry out her charade of being a widow for her entire life.

The only character I found at all compelling was Anders. His conflicting feelings about duty and what actually made him happy seemed more realistic than any of the other characters.

And let’s face it, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no bed and breakfast that could be so deliciously cozy and friendly and, well, perfect the first week that they are opened.

Or the second or third.

But perhaps I am overthinking the book. I really am not opposed to lighthearted literature. I have already professed my love for epic novels, and an occasional novel with romance at its core can be pleasurable.

I just found A Week in Winter to be way too predictable and uninteresting.

I am eager to see what others think.

A Week in Winter was published posthumously. Binchy was 72 when she died following a brief illness shortly before the book was released.

Since this is our book club read, here are some things to think about…..

Have you read any other Maeve Binchy books, and, if so, is the writing style the same? Do you enjoy her books?

Which character did you like the best? Which character did you like the least?

Do you think you could be happy living in Stonybridge, or a similar type town?

You don’t need to answer these questions; I just want to get you all started thinking about this book.

Anyone is welcome to contribute. We will discuss until Sunday night, June 8.


Buy the book from Amazon here.

Buy the book from Barnes and Noble here.





6 thoughts on “Ethereal Reader: A Week in Winter

  1. It looks like I’ll be hanging out here by myself this time, because I really enjoyed this book. I’ve never read anything by Binchy, so I didn’t know what to expect. I’m not much for “Irish storytelling,” nor have I ever yearned to see Ireland, so I’m a little surprised at myself that I liked A Week in Winter so much.
    Sometimes I think you have to be in the right head-space for a book, and I needed to read something hopeful. I liked almost all the characters—except Nell, for whom I guess I feel sorry but little else. For the most part, I would find a week with these folks interesting and comforting.
    I’ll admit that it took me a bit to get into the book. After finishing “Chicky” I was frustrated. It seemed like it was a quick and rather superficial look into her life. But, when I got to the next part and figured out what Binchy was going to do, I was hooked. And, “Rigger” was one of my favorite stories and characters. His mother never gave up on him, and, ultimately, he didn’t disappoint her. In fact, for me this was a book about hope. All the characters were struggling with something and most of them found their outlook a little brighter by the time their “week in winter” was over.
    Is it too much to expect that a house, a hostess, and seacoast could inspire all these positive changes? Maybe. But, I’m willing to go with it. Chicky poured herself into her project, so her drive and optimism certainly were part of the success. But for me the house and the landscape were supposed to be magical. Some sort of fairy dust enabled these broken people to heal and look forward with hope to their future. I do believe that certain places have mystical qualities, that we can be comforted just by their atmosphere.
    I would never want to live in Stonybridge, but I would like to visit. The very power of the sea and the environs would rejuvenate me. I think I would find Chicky’s home to be a warm, hospitable, and comforting place to return after confronting nature’s unpredictability. I would enjoy that dichotomy.

  2. I am the Ethereal Reader participant that suggested this book for our 2014 list. I had read Binchy previously and enjoyed her novels, I knew it was the last book she had written before passing away and the story sounded great. I was disappointed by the book and didn’t enjoy it like I thought I would . I think mostly because I am not a short story genre reader. Short stories just don’t get into the meat of characters and stories like I enjoy. Binchy’s idea for this novel had great imagination. All of these characters coming together and being tied together at Stone House was a fun idea. She also had some very unique character stories. John, the actor incognita. Freda, the physic. The Walls and their gift winning competitions. Another problem with the novel was that I didn’t find the characters likeable and so their heartwarming endings just didn’t grab at my heart strings. I bet Binchy had fun though, coming up with all of these plot lines.

    The reviews of the novel on Amazon are very positive. “Heartwarming and spirit restoring, spell-binding, delightful, a gratifying read full of rich characters.” Obviously Beckie’s enjoyment was felt by many. I read a review while I was reading the book that stated Binchy passed away before the final book edit. This writer stated the book would have been more developed if Binchy would have been involved in the final edit. That’s how I felt while reading. There was something missing and stories weren’t developed sufficiently

    My favorite characters were Rigger, Freda and Anders. I thought it clever that Binchy left Freda for the final chapter and that Freda saw a happy future for all of the characters sitting with her at the table.

    Like Bec, I’ve never had a strong desire to travel in Ireland. But this book made me feel like I had spent time there, and I enjoyed that experience. Hiking in the cold and wet is not for me! But I would enjoy sitting by a warm fire at the end of the day with a cup of tea. The description of the ocean, cliffs and weather were well done.

    I always question while reading a book if I would read another by the author. When Mom worked in the drug store in Silverthorne she unpacked the merchandise boxes and stocked the shelves. She loved seeing the books that would come in and that’s how she stumbled onto Binchy’s novels. I believe we read Light a Penny Candle and Firefly Summer. That’s a fun memory, Mom and I sharing books. I would like to read Light a Penny Candle again and see what I think of the story and writing 32 years later.

    A Week In Winter was not my favorite novel but I’m glad that I read it as it’s the last novel for Binchy and we have a long history!

  3. I usually don’t care for shirt stories, either. But, for some reason, when the stories are connected somehow–by theme, or characters, or setting–I get past the short story element. That’s why I wasn’t hooked until I realized these stories would be connected. I’m not sure why the connection makes such a difference for me, but it always dies.

  4. Kris, it did bother me too that Chicky never fessed up to her real story. I’m not sure why the author did that as all of the other characters had their aha moment at Stone House. Maybe so she could make Freda’s vision that she saw the true story about Chicky more impactful. Thoughts?

  5. I am pretty sure that Binchy never really finished this book before she died. I think that somebody found a notebook filled with the vingettes — notes really — that were the outline for a book but weren’t really a book. That’s my theory.

    My husband’s sister, and English major, loves, loves, LOVES Maeve Binchy. I have heard about her for years, so I was excited to read this book. I liked the opening description of Stoneybridge, and Chicky’s chapter made me laugh at the beginning. Then I got a little frustrated when years zoomed by. I did appreciate Mrs. Cassidy. I have to admit that I was pleased she invented Walter’s demise.

    I liked the concept of telling the guest’s stories, but they seemed so two-dimensional. That’s why I truly believe the book wasn’t finished. I liked her writing style, and I liked quite a lot of the dialogue, but I wish there had been more description. I think I will try one of her earlier works.

    • I agree Margaret. I think I will try one of Binchy’s earlier novels. She is such a beloved writer — and by really smart people (like my sister Beckie!), so I think I might try Light a Penny Candle. I think it’s actually on my bookshelf and I’ve just never read it. Beckie’s right too. Sometimes you just have to be in a certain place to enjoy a book.

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