Circle of Friends (1990) is one of the late Irish writer Maeve Binchy’s best-loved novels. It’s one of her only works turned into a movie in 1995 (also called Circle of Friends.) It has many of the features and types of characters seen in Binchy are other works. It centers on the friendship between two very different girls, Benny and Eve.
The novel is set in a fictional Irish suburb called Knockglen, where Bernadette, (“Benny”), daughter of the town’s tailor is already unofficially engaged to be married to one of the workers in the tailor shop. It’s the daughter’s first day of University College Dublin and it not only changes her life forever, but it also changes the lives of all of her circle of friends.
What the Book is About
The novel is written mostly from the perspective of Benny. She grows up in a typical home and became overweight yet friendly. Her father suddenly dies, naming Benny as the sole heir of the family tailor shop. Benny has to quickly learn the business as well as help out in the lives of her friends. Benny is a likable and believable protagonist as she isn’t too pretty, too rich or too smart. She learns about the business and about life at a speed easy for readers to keep up with.
The main plot is supported by a few subplots. One subplot centers on the two girls’ mutual friend Kit Hagerty, whose son dies in a motorcycle accident. She runs a boarding house for university students. How she manages to cope is believable. Another subplot involves the misadventures of the glamorous student Nan Mahon. She comes from a dirt poor family and vows to marry into wealth. Both of these subplots are quite detailed but interweave well into the main plot without overwhelming it.
Although the book centers on the convoluted friendship between ugly Benny and her beautiful orphaned friend Eve, the book has many different characters that are well-fleshed out. These characters are familiar to any reader of Binchy’s works, which includes how “rich” poor people can be, a woman having an unplanned pregnancy, people who say “eejits” instead of “idiots” and men who aren’t quite as nice as they first seem to be.
The only problem with Circle of Friends is that it is so much like other Binchy novel that it doesn’t really stand out on its own. The town of Knockglen can be interchanged with just about any other small Irish town in Binchy books. Some of the characters can also be interchanged with nearly identical characters in other Binchy books. It does contain fine writing and the pages keep on turning, but Binchy never deviated from her money-making formula. That’s a shame, because she was an excellent writer. If you only have time to read one Binchy book, you will enjoy Circle of Friends. Just do not read another Binchy book soon afterwards.