6 Authors You'll Love If You Love Maeve Binchy
If you enjoy reading the novels of Maeve Binchy, which other books will you love?
It can be tricky to find authors like Binchy. She wrote about life in small-town Ireland, but that by itself is not why people love her books. Her characters have depth and warmth, and it has been said many times that her stories are utterly without malice or snide.
What marks out her novels are believable, likeable characters and the gentle, hometown feel of her settings. Warmth, understanding, and an atmosphere of belonging is what sets Binchy's novels apart. They are the saga of home life, and finding excitement, crises and love in the everyday.
Few writers can come close to her blend of crafted writing skills and intriguing story telling, but these are the authors who sparkle with a similar light.
Intro photo: some of my books, photo Â© RedberrySky 2013.
Rosamund Pilcher - The Shell Seekers
'The Shell Seekers' is a painting by Penelope's father, and it has become an icon to her, representing the mystery of that elusive, artistic and eccentric man, and her own life that was shaped by him.
Everything in the novel 'seems' rather than 'is'. Penelope is in the autumn of her years when we first meet her at the beginning of the story, and we learn more and more, little by little, about the people and events that weaved in and out of her life, through Penelope's meandering memories of them - told to us in flashbacks and snippets, half-hints and suggestions.
I first read The Shell Seekers as a teenager, borrowed from my mother's bookshelf, and the half-bright half-shadowy tale lingers in my mind long after I turned the final page.
'September' by Rosamund Pilcher
My favourite of Pilcher's other books is September - a novel set in the Scottish Highlands, that is a hypnotic blend of slow and gentle ordinary life, and suggestions of intrigue that kept me awake reading one night until the birdsong reminded me that I hadn't slept and had only a couple of hours before I had to be in work! Pilcher's studies of human chracter and nature, and our 'funny little ways' are hard to beat, and her storytelling is impeccable. What I most love about her books is the rhythm of her language that makes her stories un-put-down-able down once I start to read, and September is no exception.
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
An eccentric man writes to Juliet when he finds her name and address written on the inside of a book he has bought, and asks for her help in finding another book, a collection of essays by Charles Lamb. He tells Juliet that he is a member of a book club on Guernsey - 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society', which utterly intrigues her.
They begin to correspond regularly, and the man begins to tell her about his life, friends and acquaintences, and the origin of the book club on the island that has such an odd name. The tale unfolds through the letters between the two, and builds to an extraordinary climax.
Warm, quirky and funny, written by Shaffer and completed by her own neice, Barrows, when Shaffer's health failed her.
Michael Frayn - Spies
Stephen traces through flashback and in travelling to the neighbourhood of youth a long ago boyhood belief that his friend Keith has a German spy in his family during World War II. Odd memories and a strange scent haunts him and brings back sickening memories that he can't quite understand and does not want to remember. All that happened happened fifty years ago, and now, late in life, he wants to find out the truth.
The story of a man trying to regain control of memories that he shut out half a century before. Spies is a trip down memory lane that is hidden in the shadows of the misunderstandings and imagination of childhood.
More Michael Frayn
Frayn's novels are beautiful and hugely engaging and entertaining - and are ripe with the intrigue that misunderstandings and half-truths cause. He's a very warm and realism-based author, but some of his revelations really pack a punch.
Helen Forrester - Twopence to Cross the Mersey
Forrester wrote a series of autobiographical novels about her life growing up in Liverpool, England. The books became a big hit and were widely read all over the world. Forrester writes about the poverty of her childhood with side-splitting humour and a marvellous charm.
Forrester is another author I started to read as a teenager. I too grew up around Liverpool, and Twopence to Cross the Mersey were read and recommended by everyone - child or adult - that I knew.
Joanna Trollope - The Choir
The choir of Alderminster Cathedral is under threat when restorations are needed to the old and beautiful building and the church's funds will not stretch to the upkeep of both. A gentle tale of village life with human crises at every turn. All the characters are somewhat eccentric in an 'English village' kind of way, and Trollope's depictions of the lows and highs of emotion are spot-on.
I love the eccentricities of the characters, and the depiction of the higher echelons of the village and Church as a kind of odd (and slightly alarming) exclusive club.
Alice Hoffman - The Probable Future
I dilly-dallied about adding Hoffman to this list - at first I put her in, and then I thought that she was a little too different to add - but one of the lovely commentors in my guestbook right at the end of the article - the wonderful Knitstricken mentions that Hoffman is also one of her favourite writers too, so I'm adding this marvellously atmospheric author back into my list.
The Probable Future has an overtone of darkness, and an undertone of the supernatural - not enough to make it a true crossover novel into other genres, but just enough to give it a shifting edge. On the cover of my copy, Scotland on Sunday newspaper calls it 'a compelling fairytale for adults', and this sums up the feel of the book for me.
It is at its heart a story about a father and daughter, and all the threads of family life, but with the twist that the daughter, Stella, has a mild form of precognition and can see what will probably happen in the future - which is something terrible, and which her father gets inexorably tied up in. But the writing, background and locations in the book are all very down-to-Earth and matter-of-fact.
The reason I even thought about including it in this list - when none of the others cross the boundary between real and supernatural - is that Hoffman, for all her odd twists and strange fairytale additions, writes characters with the warmth and realism of all the other writers listed here. Even if you aren't normally a fan of slightly offbeat tales, Hoffman is very appealing and engaging, and is a real mistress of storytelling who is worth checking out.
What Say You? - People or Plot - Characters or Story?
If you are a fan of Maeve Binchy, or family-themed character-driven novels in general, what is it about them that makes you keep reading?
What draws you to your favourite books about the saga of a life or family?
Leave a comment - about one of the books here, or one of the authors, or on anything else that takes your fancy!