Book Review: Heart and Soul
By: Maeve Binchy
Published By: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication Date: February 2009
Page Count: 417
Audience: Adult - Contemporary
As a teenager I lost myself in the words of Maeve Binchy. I loved being transported to Ireland with such a vibrant cast of characters. I imagined myself into novels such as Circle of Friends. Binchy always brought Ireland to life in my mind with such a vividness. I have longed to travel to Ireland and walk the same streets of my beloved characters. At some point, life intruded and other novels clamored for attention and I didn't get around to reading more Binchy novels. When Binchy passed in 2012, my heart ached for the loss of such an amazing storyteller. I vowed that at some point I would reread my old favorites and polish off the unread titles. I finally am making good on my word and making my rounds with stories that are new to me.
Heart and Soul focuses on a large cast of characters that are connected via a heart clinic in Dublin. The clinic is attached to a large and prestigious hospital, but was not welcomed by everyone in the hospital community. Dr. Clara Casey agrees to run the clinic, but she finds that she is often at odds with Frank Ennis, who controls the hospital finances with an iron fist. Clara must fight for every tiny thing her clinic needs to become a success. Along the way, Clara finds endearing people to add to her staff. The clinic becomes a family of sorts and I found myself longing to work with such good and decent people.
The novel focuses on not just the goings on of the clinic, but also delves into the private lives of the staff. Clara has a difficult family life as her two grown daughters still live at home, but contribute little. To make matters worse, her ex keeps coming round and making a nuisance of himself. The nurses at the clinic, Barbara and Fiona, have their own issues concerning relationships. Declan, the young doctor who joins the staff, has his eyes on Fiona, but must first overcome his confidence issues. Declan also worries how Fiona will get along with his blue collar parents who are so proud to have a doctor for a son. Ania, a young polish immigrant, works in the clinic as Clara's assistant and faces prejudice from some of the patients. Her hardworking nature and caring heart made her admirable. Lastly, Hillary, the office manager, is dealing with her aging mother and hoping her son will one day meet "the one". There are also other characters, but I tried to highlight the plot lines I loved most. I found myself completely immersed in the lives of those working in the clinic. By the novel's end I felt like I had made some very dear friends.
Binchy also does a fabulous job of describing life in Dublin. I've still yet to visit the city for myself, but it's certainly a high priority on my bucket list.
In addition, it was nice to also see appearances from other Dublin characters from previous novels.
One Last Gripe: It was slightly overwhelming from time to time to keep track of so many characters.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved seeing the characters' stories intertwine and then diverge back into their individual lives.
First Sentence: Some projects take forever to get off the ground.
Favorite Character: This is difficult because I loved so many, but I will go with Fiona.
Least Favorite Character: Mrs. Walsh
With the insight, humor, and compassion we have come to expect from her, Maeve Binchy tells a story of family, friends, patients, and staff who are part of a heart clinic in a community caught between the old and the new Ireland.
Dr. Clara Casey has been offered the thankless job of establishing the underfunded clinic and agrees to take it on for a year. She has plenty on her plate already—two difficult adult daughters and the unwanted attentions of her ex-husband—but she assembles a wonderfully diverse staff devoted to helping their demanding, often difficult patients.
Before long the clinic is established as an essential part of the community, and Clara must decide whether or not to leave a place where lives are saved, courage is rewarded, and humor and optimism triumph over greed and self-pity.
Heart and Soul is Maeve Binchy at her storytelling best.