First posted at Epinions in 2005
When I forgot my usual reading material one weekend, I walked into a local bookstore. Perusing the selections, I chose Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends due of my great fondness for the film of the same name based on the novel.
The novel centers around the characters of Benny and Eve, following them from their improbable friendship at the local Roman Catholic school in Knockglen, Ireland through their University years in Dublin. While Benny is a fawned-over only child of doting parents, Eve is an orphan being raised by the local nuns.
As the novel goes on, more and more characters are added to the “circle of friends” which is exactly what the novel becomes. There are friends in Knockglen, such as the unconventional pairing of Fonsie and Clodagh who set the townsfolk into a tizzy with their modern ways. We meet Nan’s family and learn of a deep secret surrounding her as she becomes great friends with a young cousin. In Dublin, there are the more worldly friends such as Nan, Jack, and Aidan.
Fans of the film might recognize some of the names and not others. Binchy’s story here is much more rounded than would be capable of depicting in the cinema. Although much of the story still follows Benny throughout her discovering just who she is and what she wants in her life, she’s definitely not the sole focus of the novel. I liked reading of living in a small town and how that contrasted with the city. The details of Eve’s life, revealed slowly and in such a way that it flowed naturally with her own maturation was something new to read.
This is contrasted with Benny feeling guilty over wanting to spread her wings a bit as her parents smother her. All the while she is fretting over having to return to the home in Knockglen each evening while Eve, Nan, and the others remain in Dublin. Will it cost Benny the affections of the dashing Jack?
The amount of characters and the attention paid to them is handled well as they really fit in nicely with the story. As the come and go from the main story of the everlasting friendship between Eve and Benny, the information given about them is enough to keep it interesting but at the same time not give the book a wandering or plodding feel. The story goes along at a nice pace and I read the book over the course of about a week. At just shy of 600 pages in paperback, that’s not a tremendous amount of reading but more than I usually devote to one novel in such a short time. Binchy drew me into the lives of all of her characters, not just those I knew from the film. Even the characters from school and town who she doesn’t give a great deal of background on are interesting. There are people such as Rosemary, a girl at school who chases Jack for a bit; Kit, a woman who runs a rooming house for some of the college boys who has just lost a son of her own and agrees to allow Eve to live with her; Mother Francis who loves being a “mother” to Eve; Dorothy Healy who runs the local hotel and dining room in Knockglen.
Although Binchy throws in many plot twists, they aren’t so extreme that it gives the story the feeling of being exaggerated for effect. Instead it seems to be things that people have seen happen in their lives and the lives of people around them.
Circle of Friends doesn’t have the same ending as the film, and that surprised and saddened me at first. However, with the depth given to the various characters which wasn’t capable of being given within the time constraints of the film, it seemed a more natural outcome.
I’d highly recommend the book to anyone. I gave it to my mother recently and she read through it in a few days and now it’s in the hands of my 15 year old daughter. I think it’s good for those in their mid to late teens as it does give a good message on the power and importance of friendships as well as dealing with one of the worst betrayals a friend can ever do to another friend.