Book Reviews

Book Review: Evening Class by Maeve Binchy – Most People are Inherently Good, Or So It Seems

Maeve Binchy is one of those writers who manages to take a slice of what would seemingly be everyday life in Dublin, Ireland, and weave wonderful tales where stories interact and the people become so real that it feels as if we can ring them up and see what’s going on in their lives now.

In Evening Class, Binchy sets the stage at a marginal secondary school in a not-so-great area of Dublin.  Latin teacher Aidan Dunne is getting by but is restless and unfulfilled.  He believes he is next in line for the principal’s job at the school.  However, he is passed over for the position and someone he considers unworthy is given the job. Tony O’Brien has a reputation for womanizing and drinking.  Unbeknownst to Aidan, Tony recently began dating one of his daughters, Grania.  To try and mollify the explosive situation he has been thrust into, Tony helps Aidan start an evening school.

Aidan’s fascination with Italy leads him to start a night class in Italian.  He enlists the help of Nora O’Donoghue, herself just back from twenty years of living in Italy.  Together they create the learning environment for the class and get a group of people signed up for the class, each with their own reasons for being here.

As Binchy gives the background for each character chapter by chapter the story grows, all surrounding the Evening Class.  We learn of Nora’s reasons for spending twenty years in Italy.  Instead of returning to her family, she elects to take a room with another family and is a catalyst there for positive effects on the family.  Their daughter signs up for the class and brings her boyfriend with her.  Bill works with Grania at the bank and dreams of being worthy of the girl he’s dating with a career in international banking.  He manages to convince Lizzie to sign up for the class with him as well.  Connie is a wealthy woman trying to find herself after having spent years lost in her marriage.  All of these characters and more interact with others in the class and intersect with each other’s lives at some point as well.

I found Evening Class to be easy to read and a lot of fun.  I loved the characters and by the end of the book found them as familiar as an old group of friends.  They are all different to some degree, but the common bond that brought them together also helps build friendships that also seem to help with carving out some happiness that was missing from their lives.  The interaction doesn’t feel forced or convenient.  We always say “it’s a small world” when some part of our lives intersects with someone else’s in an unexpected way, and Evening Class proves that idiom to be true, even in a city as large as Dublin.

There hasn’t been a Maeve Binchy book that let me down yet.  I enjoy them thoroughly as they aren’t quite as sappy and emotional as many of the “chick-lit” books on the market.  At the same time, they are a nice story filled with intriguing characters who feel as real as anyone we meet during the course of our day.  With Evening Class she has a particularly well-rounded selection that all seem to be trying to achieve a bit of happiness in the world. Isn’t that what we all want?