The world of Irish books is a lesser place this week after the death of the incomparable Maeve Binchy. With an incredible 16 novels and 40 million worldwide sales to her name (not to mention innumerable library loans and hand-to-hand book shares!), her writing touched so many readers, and brought Ireland to homes and hearths around the world.
But anyone who has read Maeve’s books or been lucky enough to meet her in person will know that the big numbers are not what was important to Maeve: what she really loved was the personal. Her books – wise, warm and enveloping – are always full of kindness and understanding of even the most awkward characters in life. “ I don’t have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories,” she said during an interview. “ I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks”. Her intelligent eye for detail, her absorbing stories, and above all her capacity to capture the foibles of the human heart, combined to delight fans with every book she published.
The intelligence, wit and empathy she showed in her writing were a true reflection of her personality. The outpouring of tributes since her death shows the warmth of feeling towards Maeve as a woman as well as a writer. As booksellers, we are honoured to have had the chance to know her, and she has been a great friend to us: always with a kind word, a warm gesture or note, and a remarkable memory for every shop and member of staff that she ever met. I was lucky enough to meet her on the very first day of my job in Easons: she insisted I sit down and tell her all about myself while she signed copies of ‘Tara Road’. She signed a copy of it for me too: “Maria – welcome to this mad world! Maeve”. I have it framed in my office to this day. Everyone who met her has a little tale to tell of her thoughtfulness or her impish sense of humour.
Besides the gift of her own writing, Maeve inspired a generation of Irish women writers, and was always warm and encouraging to aspiring novelists. A true touchstone of modern Irish writing, she happily shared her knowledge and experience with a generation of female fiction authors, creating one of Ireland’s most loved genres, not to mention one of our proudest exports.
Maeve, your ‘ugly ducklings’ thank you for everything you gave us.