I should know by now that I shouldn't rush out and buy a new novel in hardcover just because it is written by someone whose previous books I loved. Alas, Maeve Binchy has joined the ranks of such writers as John Irving by producing a novel that was a real disappointment.
Whitethorn Woods returns to one of Binchy's favourite settings, a sleepy Irish town. This particular sleepy town is called Rossmore, and the big drama happening there is that a new bypass road has been proposed, one that will stop heavy traffic from cutting through the town but will also ruin the nearby woods. We are reminded over and over again from the get-go that this road is very controversial and that many people are opposed to it because there's a shrine to St. Ann inside a cave in the woods, and this cave would apparently be demolished in the name of progress.
The main problem with this book is that it fails to make me care. A trademark of Maeve Binchy's writing is that not much happens in her novels, but because her characters are so compelling and believable I get caught up in their lives and want the best for them. Sadly, Binchy has managed to not make that happen this time because of the odd way she is telling the story of Rossmore: this novel consists of a series of disjointed short stories, many of which read like rushed summaries of people's lives and some of which are told twice, from the point of view of more than one person in the story. Each story includes a mention of the increasingly tiresome Rossmore with its boring controversy, so that by the time the writing finally sparked some interest in me (about 2/3 of the way through) I was thoroughly sick and tired of St. Ann's shrine and couldn't care less about the road. Binchy does make an effort to pull some of the disjointed stories together in the final chapter, but unfortunately it's too little, too late. There were just too many people to keep track of and I could barely remember who was who by the final chapter.
Alas! Maeve Binchy is one of those writers I used to be able to count on to consistently produce great novels and who are trying too hard now to be different and innovative, with the result that they just make me feel like I've wasted my money on a boring book. The uninteresting drama of Rossmore is right up there with Jack Burns and his snoozeworthy quest for his absent father in John Irving's Until I Find You, which I just can't muster up the interest to finish.