Friday, May 15, 2009
Review: Tara Road
Tara Road by Maeve Binchy
Reasons for reading: I've enjoyed two of her other books, so chose her May 28, 1940 birthday for the Celebrate the Author Challenge for May
Description: "Ria lived on Tara Road in Dublin with her dashing husband, Danny, and their two children. She fully believed she was happily married, right up until the day Danny told her he was leaving her to be with his young, pregnant girlfriend. By a chance phone call, Ria meets Marilyn, a woman from New England unable to come to terms with her only son's death and now separated from her husband. The two women exchange houses for the summer with extraordinary consequences, each learning that the other has a deep secret that can never be revealed."
First line: "Ria's mother had always been very fond of film stars."
My thoughts: I loved the first Binchy book I read, Evening Class. But this one just didn't quite do it for me. I still enjoyed it, but throughout I just didn't really like the characters very much. I found Ria, the heroine, a drip for the first 2/3 of the book - she seems very passive and naive. She's a great cook and is kind, etc., but she seems to just allow herself to be led by Danny (who of course you knew was bad news from his first entrance, it just took her 15 years to find out what everyone else knew). She loves being surrounded by people, even though I couldn't imagine how she could stand her carping, odd mother dropping in with her hideous, howling dog (who has all kinds of weird rules for her behaviour, such as priding herself on never coming over "unannounced" because she calls out from the gate as she approaches the house) or her completely miserable, miserly, judgemental sister Hilary. Her one friend, Gertie, is abused constantly by her drunk husband and has to beg for his booze money for by cleaning houses, but she gets upset if people offer her straight-up help, she wants her "dignity" (even though the entire neighbourhood either pities her or is disgusted by her). Her glamorous, wealthy friend, Rosemary, well, turns out not to be a friend at all.
Ria is painted as rather a saint for having such a warm kitchen and bustling, open home, but mainly all these people just show up, so she has no choice. Plus, apart from cooking, Ria doesn't have much else to do with her time, especially once the kids are older - Gertie helps her clean, she allows the front garden to be a mess and has someone else do the back, and she doesn't work outside the home except for a day a week at the charity shop. And the reason she doesn't do most of these things is that Danny says no, so she just accepts it. A drip!
Things perk up a bit once Danny drops his big news and Marilyn and Ria exchange houses. Things got quite interesting then. But even after having the scales removed from her eyes and starting to stand up to him, Ria remains stupid about Danny - mainly only standing up to him because she thinks he'll come back. I thought the best part of the book was Marilyn, who really does grow and change and come to terms with a horrible tragedy by allowing herself to become close to the weirdos of Tara Road.
The other character I liked was Colm, who opens a restaurant in Tara Road - quite a few of the dramatic scenes take place in his restaurant. Affairs come to light, a drug lord does deal and annoying side character Orla makes a fool of herself by singing while drinking vodka out of a vase. Colm is a steadying presence for everyone in the neighbourhood - not effusive or nosy, but ready to help quietly when needed.
Comic relief is provided constantly by Ria's son, Brian, who has the worst case of foot-in-mouth disease combined with general dimness ever. He's always asking the wrong thing or telling something he shouldn't, but he's never mean-spirited - he's honestly just a confused kid whose life has just suddenly turned upside down. His sister Annie is a little teenaged madam a lot of the time, but fairly endearing and her reactions to her brother are great.
The verdict: Maybe I just stepped onto Tara Road on the wrong foot - overall reviews for the book are really good, so don't necessarily take my word for it. And I still like Maeve Binchy and plan to read more of her books.