Maeve Binchy is one of the world’s great literary treasures. I’ve never been disappointed with any Binchy book, and Whitethorn Woods is no exception.
The fate of beloved St. Ann’s Well, deep within Whitethorn Woods, is ostensibly the central conflict in the story. A proposed highway bi-pass would destroy the lauded site, but improve the economic outlook for rural Rossmore, Ireland. Superficially, this contentious issue is promoted as paramount, as the book opens and closes with the status of this venerated religious grotto, rumored to be the source of answered prayers and a place to lay one’s concerns. However, much like so many of Binchy’s tales, the characters are woven through the main plot, which on the surface seems to be the central component, but as the reader progresses through the narrative, and the cast is revealed, become increasingly authentic and tangled with each other’s lives.
Whitethorn Woods features no one individual, nor focuses on any one main character. It would seem perhaps an expected protagonist would be story-opener Father Brian Flynn, whose adversarial regard of St. Ann’s Well places him at odds with many villagers. Although Ireland’s steadfast Catholic population adheres to doctrine, the soul of the island nation is rooted in pagan traditions. Father Flynn’s ongoing struggle to hand-hold his flock, while remaining true to his religious calling sets the stage for a rich and well-developed cast of characters, who are unknowingly connected to each other on a multi-layered and meaningful way.
Whitethorn Woods is written in a seemingly off-hand manner, so will appeal to novice readers. The beauty of Binchy’s writing, however is the consistent appeal to more advanced readers, who want to ruminate on a deeper level, after skipping through a daisy field of charming but mature story-telling.