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ireland (50) fiction (49) alcoholism (16) relationships (13) dublin (12) family (12) novel (5) fatherhood (5) irish (4) community (4) love (4)
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

When Noel learns that his terminally ill former flame is pregnant with his child, he reluctantly agrees to take care of the baby girl. Along with the help of a caring network of friends, family and neighbors—including Lisa, his broken-hearted classmate, and Emily, his American cousin—Noel adapts to his new responsibilities. But when a nosy social worker decides to get involved, she threatens to ruin their unconventional but special arrangement. It will be up to Noel to persuade her that everyone in the neighborhood has something to offer when it comes to minding Frankie.

Excerpt

Binchy: MINDING FRANKIE

Chapter One

Katie Finglas was coming to the end of a tiring day in the salon. Anything bad that could happen had happened. A woman had not told them about an allergy and had come out with lumps and a rash on her forehead. A bride’s mother had thrown a tantrum and said that she looked like a laughingstock. A man who had wanted streaks of blond in his hair became apoplectic when, halfway through the process, he had inquired what they would cost. Katie’s husband, Garry, had placed both his hands innocently on the shoulders of a sixty-year-old female client, who had then told him that she was going to sue him for sexual harassment and assault.

Katie looked now at the man standing opposite her, a big priest with sandy hair mixed with gray.

“You’re Katie Finglas and I gather you run this establishment,” the priest said, looking around the innocent salon nervously as if it were a high-class brothel.

“That’s right, Father,” Katie said with a sigh. What could be happening now?

“It’s just that I was talking to some of the girls who work here, down at the center on the quays, you know, and they were telling me . . .”

Katie felt very tired. She employed a couple of high school dropouts: she paid them properly, trained them. What could they have been complaining about to a priest?

“Yes, Father, what exactly is the problem?” she asked.

“Well, it is a bit of a problem. I thought I should come to you directly, as it were.” He seemed a little awkward.

“Very right, Father,” Katie said. “So tell me what it is.”

“It’s this woman, Stella Dixon. She’s in hospital, you see . . .”

“Hospital?” Katie’s head reeled. What could this involve? Someone who had inhaled the peroxide?

“I’m sorry to hear that.” She tried for a level voice.

“Yes, but she wants a hairdo.”

“You mean she trusts us again?” Sometimes life was extraordinary.

“No, I don’t think she was ever here before. . . .” He looked bewildered.

“And your interest in all this, Father?”

“I am Brian Flynn and I am acting chaplain at St. Brigid’s Hospital at the moment, while the real chaplain is in Rome on a pilgrimage. Apart from being asked to bring in cigarettes and drink for the patients, this is the only serious request I’ve had.”

“You want me to go and do someone’s hair in hospital?”

“She’s seriously ill. She’s dying. I thought she needed a senior person to talk to. Not, of course, that you look very senior. You’re only a girl yourself,” the priest said.

“God, weren’t you a sad loss to the women of Ireland when you went for the priesthood,” Katie said. “Give me her details and I’ll bring my magic bag of tricks in to see her.”

“Thank you so much. I have it all written out here.” Father Flynn handed her a note.

A middle-aged woman approached the desk. She had glasses on the tip of her nose and an anxious expression.

“I gather you teach people the tricks of hairdressing,” she said.

“Yes, or more the art of hairdressing, as we like to call it,” Katie said.

“I have a cousin coming home from America for a few weeks. She mentioned that in America there are places where you could get your hair done for near to nothing cost if you were letting people practice on you.”

“Well, we do have a students’ night on Tuesdays; people bring in their own towels and we give them a style. They usually contribute five euros to a charity.”

“Tonight is Tuesday!” the woman cried triumphantly.

“So it is,” Katie said through gritted teeth.

“So, could I book myself in? I’m Josie Lynch.”

“Great, Mrs. Lynch—see you after seven o’clock,” Katie said, writing down the name. Her eyes met the priest’s. There was sympathy and understanding there.

It wasn’t all champagne and glitter running your own hairdressing salon.

Josie and Charles Lynch had lived in 23 St. Jarlath’s Crescent since they were married thirty-two years ago. They had seen many changes in the area. The corner shop had become a mini-supermarket; the old laundry, where sheets had been ironed and folded, was now a Laundromat, where people left big bags bulky with mixed clothes and asked for a service wash. There was now a proper medical practice with four doctors where once there had been just old Dr. Gillespie, who had brought everyone into the world and seen them out of it.

During the height of the economic boom, houses in St. Jarlath’s Crescent had changed hands for amazing sums of money. Small houses with gardens near the city center had been much in demand. Not anymore, of course—the recession had been a great equalizer, but it was still a much more substantial area than it had been three decades ago.

After all, just look at Molly and Paddy Carroll, with their son Declan—a doctor—a real, qualified doctor! And just look at Muttie and Lizzie Scarlet’s daughter Cathy. She ran a catering company that was hired for top events.

But a lot of things had changed for the worse. There was no community spirit anymore. No church processions went up and down the Crescent on the feast of Corpus Christi, as they used to three decades ago. Josie and Charles Lynch felt that they were alone in the world, and certainly in St. Jarlath’s Crescent, in that they knelt down at night and said the Rosary.

That had always been the way.

When they married they planned a life based on the maxim that the family that prays together stays together. They had assumed they would have eight or nine children, because God never put a mouth into this world that He didn’t feed. But that wasn’t to happen. After Noel, Josie had been told there would be no more children. It was hard to accept. They both came from big families; their brothers and sisters had produced big families. But then, perhaps, it was all meant to be this way.

They had always hoped Noel would be a priest. The fund to educate him for the priesthood was started before he was three. Money was put aside from Josie’s wages at the biscuit factory. Every week a little more was added to the post office savings account, and when Charles got his envelope on a Friday from the hotel where he was a porter, a sum was also put into the post office. Noel would get the best of priestly educations when the time came.

So it was with great surprise and a lot of disappointment that Josie and Charles learned that their quiet son had no interest whatsoever in a religious life. The Brothers said that he showed no sign of a vocation, and when the matter had been presented to Noel as a possibility when he was fourteen, he had said if it was the last job on earth he wouldn’t go for it.

That had been very definite indeed.

Not so definite, however, was what he actually would like to do. Noel was vague about this, except to say he might like to run an office. Not work in an office, but run one. He showed no interest in studying office management or bookkeeping or accounting or in any areas where the careers department tried to direct him. He liked art, he said, but he didn’t want to paint. If pushed, he would say that he liked looking at paintings and thinking about them. He was good at drawing; he always had a notebook and a pencil with him and he was often to be found curled up in a corner sketching a face or an animal. This did not, of course, lead to any career path, but Noel had never expected it to. He did his homework at the kitchen table, sighing now and then, but rarely ever excited or enthusiastic. At the parent-teacher meetings Josie and Charles had inquired about this. They wondered, Did anything at school fire him up? Anything at all?

The teachers were at a loss. Most boys were unfathomable around fourteen or fifteen but they had usually settled down to do something. Or often to do nothing. Noel Lynch, they said, had just become even more quiet and withdrawn than he already was.

Josie and Charles wondered, Could this be right?

Noel was quiet, certainly, and it had been a great relief to them that he hadn’t filled the house up with loud young lads thumping one another. But they had thought this was part of his spiritual life, a preparation for a future as a priest. Now it appeared that this was certainly not the case.

Perhaps, Josie suggested, it was only the Brothers’ brand of religious life that Noel objected to. In fact, he might have a different kind of vocation and want to become a Jesuit or a missionary?

Apparently not.

And when he was fifteen he said that he didn’t really want to join in the family Rosary anymore; it was only a ritual of meaningless prayers chanted in repetition. He didn’t mind doing good for people, trying to make less fortunate people have a better life, but surely no God could want this fifteen minutes of drone drone drone.

By the time he was sixteen they realized that he didn’t go to Sunday Mass anymore. Someone had seen him up by the canal when he was meant to have been to the early Mass up in the church on the corner. He told them that there was no point in his staying on at school, as there was nothing more he needed to learn from them. They were hiring office staff up at Hall’s and they would train him in office routine. He might as well go to work straightaway rather than hang about.

The Brothers and the teachers at his school said it was always a pity to see a boy study and leave without a qualification, but still, they said, shrugging, it was very hard trying to interest the lad in anything at all. He seemed to be sitting and waiting for his schooldays to end. Could even be for the best if he left school now. Get him into Hall’s, the big builders’ merchants; give him a wage every week and then they might see where, if anywhere, his interest lay.

Josie and Charles thought sadly of the fund that had been growing in the post office for years. Money that would never be spent making Noel Lynch into a reverend. A kindly Brother suggested that maybe they should spend it on a holiday for themselves, but Charles and Josie were shocked. This money had been saved for God’s work; it would be spent on God’s work.

Noel got his place in Hall’s. He met his work colleagues but without any great enthusiasm. They would not be his friends and companions any more than his fellow students at the Brothers had become mates. He didn’t want to be alone all the time, but it was often easier.

Over the years Noel had arranged with his mother that he would not join them at meals. He would have his lunch in the middle of the day and he would make a snack for himself in the evening. This way he missed the Rosary, the socializing with pious neighbors and the interrogation about what he had done with his day, which was the natural accompaniment to mealtimes in the Lynch household.

He took to coming home later and later. He also took to visiting Casey’s pub on the journey home—a big barn of a place, both comforting and anonymous at the same time. It was familiar because everyone knew his name.

“I’ll drop it down to you, Noel,” the loutish son of the house would say. Old Man Casey, who said little but noticed everything, would look over his spectacles as he polished the beer glasses with a clean linen cloth.

“Evening, Noel,” he would say, managing to combine the courtesy of being the landlord with the sense of disapproval he had of Noel. He was, after all, an acquaintance of Noel’s father. It was as if he were glad that Casey’s was getting the price of the pint—or several pints—as the night went on but as well as this he seemed disappointed that Noel was not spending his wages more wisely. Yet Noel liked the place. It wasn’t a trendy pub with fancy prices. It wasn’t full of girls giggling and interrupting a man’s drinking. People left him alone here.

That was worth a lot.
Maeve Binchy

About Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy - Minding Frankie

Photo © Vincent McDonnell

Maeve Binchy is the author of numerous best-selling books, including her most recent works, Chestnut Street, A Week in Winter, Minding Frankie, Heart and Soul, and Whitethorn Woods, as well as Circle of Friends and Tara Road, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. She began working for The Irish Times beginning in the early 1960s, and she wrote regularly for the newspaper in the decades that followed, including a weekly column that won her the hearts and minds of readers. Married to Gordon Snell, she lived in Dalkey, Ireland, until her death in July 2012.
 
www.maevebinchy.com 

Praise

Praise

“Joyful, quintessential Binchy.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“All across America, Maeve Binchy fans will be kicking off their shoes, making a nice cup of tea, and curling up on the couch as they re-enter Binchy’s cozy world.” —The Seattle Times

“Binchy’s worldview is a large, benevolent one, and the reader is happier for it. . . . Bless her big Irish heart.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“One of Binchy’s best works. She harmoniously handles a diverse group of characters, the good deeds that characterize life in Ireland are believable, and the ending is sweet.” —Newark Star-Ledger

“A comforting experience. . . . Warmhearted.” —The Denver Post
 
“In Minding Frankie Binchy proves again why she’s the master of the intelligent comfort novel.” —The Plain Dealer
 
“Maeve Binchy has done it again [with] yet another warm tale of individual growth and human community, [in which] she assembles a large cast of characters and deploys them with her characteristic playfulness . . . Binchy specializes in exploring human foibles without spelling them out in tiresome detail . . . There’s a good chance that many readers, like this one, will consider Minding Frankie one of Binchy’s best novels yet.” —BookPage
 
“Solid, reliable, and comforting in its familiarity, delivering to Binchy fans what they have come to expect from her novels. . . . A reminder of the author’s savvy ability to deliver what her loyal following has come to expect.” —The Irish Times
 
“Absorbing. . . . Teems with colorful characters whose concerns and connections are depicted with heart and humor. . . . New readers of Binchy will succumb to the appeal of the heartwarming tradition longtime fans love to love.” —The Free-Lance Star (Fredericksburg, VA)
 
“All across America, Maeve Binchy fans will be kicking off their shoes, making a nice cup of tea, and curling up on the couch as they re-enter Binchy’s cozy world. The Irish author returns here to a charming Dublin milieu of favorite characters from past novels, with some important new ones.” —The Seattle Times
 
Acclaim for Maeve Binchy:
 
“A remarkably gifted writer and a wonderful student of human nature.” —The New York Times Book Review
 
“A modern-day women’s writer in the Jane Austen sense.” —Standard-Times (New Bedford, MA)
 
“Binchy makes you laugh, cry, and care. Her warmth and sympathy render the daily struggles of ordinary people heroic and turn storytelling into art.” —The San Francisco Chronicle
 
“An author of exceptional grace [with] a wickedly subtle sense of humor and a great deal of kindness.” —The Boston Globe
 
“Maeve Binchy is a benevolent god of a novelist. . . . She can channel Irish voices with the best of them, and each of these voices has its own twisting story to tell. . . . often with verve and humor.” —The Columbus Dispatch
 
“Binchy is a grand storyteller in the finest Irish tradition. [She] has a true gift of creating characters we either know or wish we knew. . . . A perfect escape.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“Only a curmudgeon could resist this master of cheerful, read-by-fire comfort.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
“Reading one of Maeve Binchy’s novels is like coming home.” —The Washington Post

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Minding Frankie, Maeve Binchy’s warm and engaging new novel.

About the Guide

“Reading a Maeve Binchy novel is like settling in for a cozy visit with an old friend. In vintage Binchy style, a cast of colorfully eccentric characters living in a snug Dublin neighborhood seamlessly weave in and out of each other’s lives, united by family, faith, friendship and community . . . Readers will need a box of tissues handy as the good-hearted residents of St. Jarlath’s Crescent prove that it does indeed take a village to raise a child.” —Booklist
 
“Bestseller Binchy is a national treasure in her homeland of Ireland, and her latest novel is a perfect illustration of why. . . . Binchy straddles improbable and possible in her touching saga, and if your mind can’t quite wrap itself around St. Jarlath’s Crescent, your heart will have no trouble recognizing the landscape.” —Publishers Weekly
 
“The stories of Noel, his cousin Emily, and his friend Lisa, along with the social worker who wants to pull them apart and the little girl who pulls them together, make this novel fresh and appealing. An enjoyable novel about life, love and second chances.” —Library Journal
 
Maeve Binchy is back with a tale of joy, heartbreak and hope, about a motherless girl collectively raised by a close-knit Dublin community.
When Noel learns that his terminally ill former flame is pregnant with his child, he agrees to take guardianship of the baby girl once she’s born. But as a single father battling demons of his own, Noel can’t do it alone.
Fortunately, he has a competent, caring network of friends, family and neighbors: Lisa, his unlucky-in-love classmate, who moves in with him to help him care for little Frankie around the clock; his American cousin, Emily, always there with a pep talk; the newly retired Dr. Hat, with more time on his hands than he knows what to do with; Dr. Declan and Fiona and their baby son, Frankie’s first friend; and many eager babysitters, including old friends Signora and Aidan and Frankie’s doting grandparents, Josie and Charles.
But not everyone is pleased with the unconventional arrangement, especially a nosy social worker, Moira, who is convinced that Frankie would be better off in a foster home. Now it’s up to Noel to persuade her that everyone in town has something special to offer when it comes to minding Frankie.

About the Author

Maeve Binchy is the author of numerous best-selling books, including her most recent novel, Heart and Soul, in addition to Whitethorn Woods, Nights of Rain and Stars, Quentins, Scarlet Feather, Circle of Friends and Tara Road, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. She has written for Gourmet; O, The Oprah Magazine; Modern Maturity; and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. She and her husband, Gordon Snell, live in Dalkey, Ireland.

Discussion Guides

1. Have you read any of Maeve Binchy’s other novels? How does this one compare?

2. If you’ve read other Binchy books, which characters did you recognize? Are there any you’d like to see in a future novel?

3. There are many parents in the book. Who would you say does the best job, and why?

4. There are a number of recent retirees, voluntary and otherwise, who become an important part of Frankie’s life. What kind of roles do her grandparents, Josie and Charles, take on? What about Dr. Hat and Muttie? More generally, what do the very young and the very mature have to offer each other?  Which generation do you think needs the other more?

5. “Emily told herself that she must not try to change the world. . . . But there were some irresistible forces that could never be fought with logic and practicality. Emily Lynch knew this for certain” (page 22). What “irresistible forces” does she mean? How does she fight them?

6. It’s clear what Noel gets from his relationship with Emily, but what does she get? How does the effect of alcoholism bond them?

7. Discuss Lisa’s relationship with Anton. Why is she so oblivious to his less attractive qualities? What is her turning point?

8. Why is Moira so obsessed with Frankie’s fate? Is it just fear, or is there something more going on?

9. How does Moira define “family”? How does Emily?

10. Lisa says to Moira, “I have a lot of worries and considerations in my life, but minding Frankie sort of grounds me. It gives it all some purpose, if you know what I mean” (page 239). Among Frankie’s caretakers, who else might say this?

11. Discuss the ethics of Moira’s dealings with Eddie Kennedy. Should she have told him about her father?

12. Anton says to Lisa, “I’m not the villain here, you know,” and she responds, “I know. That’s why I’m angry. I got it so wrong . . . ” (page 314) What does she mean?

13. What did you think of Di Kelly’s reason for staying with her husband? What would you have done?

14. What is your opinion of Noel’s decision to get a DNA test? How would you have handled the results he received?

15. Many of the characters go through major upheavals in their lives. Who responds best, and why? Whose attitude changes the most?

16. What did you think of Stella’s letter to Frankie? What did we learn from it?

Suggested Readings

Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy; The Shellseekers by Rosamund Pilcher; The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley; An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor; What Are You Like? by Anne Enright; The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín; Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson; Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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