Book Club: Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy
“Chestnut Street” is a collection of thirty six short stories by Maeve Binchy, a much loved writer who passed away in 2012. Her husband, Gordon Snell, recently decided that the time was right to share these stories that his wife had written over many years. I am glad he made that decision.
These are wonderful stories, set on Chestnut Street, a fictional place in Dublin, Ireland. Each story is told from the point of view of a different resident. They include stories told by adults, teenagers, and children.
Binchly had a way of bringing her characters to life. The residents of Chestnut Street are warm and familiar. Every single one teaches us a lesson and shines a light on an aspect of human experience – good and bad. She makes no judgements and describes them in all their complexity and vulnerability. I love short stories because they allow a brief glimpse intimacy into a moment in someone’s life. Binchy creates a beautiful collage of humanity.
I chose this title for the Sixty and Me Community, because all of our lives have been defined by neighbourhoods. Think of the people you have known who lived near you throughout your life. Remember their stories, dramas, tragedies and joys. Think about how they impacted your life.
Everyone one in these stories is someone’s family member, co-worker, friend or acquaintance. No one is insignificant and everyone played a part in shaping us. Our neighbourhoods taught us about love, betrayal, divorce, marriage and childbirth. Binchy captures all of these people and their stories with beautiful precision. As one review of the book comments, Binchy had the ability to allow us to “glimpse the magic in the mundane.”
This is a perfect book for a quiet day, when you can let your memories travel back in time. So, pour a cup of tea or mug of coffee and take a trip down memory lane. As you read “Chestnut Street,” think about your previous neighbourhood’s, the relationships and the places you have lived, loved and learned.
To kick things off, here are a few questions. Please add your thoughts in the comments:
Can you think of the characters in the stories that reinvent themselves? Do their new selves make them any happier?
At the end of “The Gift of Dignity,” Binchy writes: “She knew that what she had offered, dignity and respect, were not nearly as satisfying as a good cry. That was friendship.” What does friendship mean to you?
In the short story “The Investment” was Nick a good or bad son? Did he finally make things better after what he had stolen?
In the story “Madame Magic,” what magic did Agnes really perform?
In the final story “One Night a Year,” the story tells about a chance encounter. Have you experienced a chance encounter that changed your life?
In many of the stories, a relative tries to influence one of her young relatives still living at home. Is this always a good idea?
What characters in any of the stories do you most identify with? Why?
I hope that you enjoy this book! Please share your thoughts below.