“I do worry a bit, I don’t want to be abnormal.” Clare was solemn.
“Well, I hope you’re not big-headed enough to think that you’re something special. That would be a sin of Pride you know.”
“I suppose so.”
“You can know it, not suppose it. It’s there in black and white in the catechism. The two great sins against Hope are Pride and Despair. You mustn’t get drawn towards either of them.”
“Were you ever tempted a bit to either of them?” Clare was an odd mixture. She could be quite familiar and probing sometimes as if she were the equal of the teacher sitting opposite her, yet she could also be totally respectful, and up at the convent she never gave a glimmer of the intimacy they shared in the O’Hara cottage.
“If I was, I suppose it was a bit more towards Despair,” Angela said. “Sometimes I used to think I’d never make it and what was it all for anyway. But I did and here I am, and I’m teaching the second great genius to come out of Castlebay, so will you open your books and not have us here all night talking about sins against Hope and friendships long gone.”
Author: Maeve Binchy
Synopsis: In the seaside resort town of Castlebay, two very different children grew up to love each other: David Power, privileged only son of the town’s only doctor, and Clare O’Brien, brilliant but poor younger daughter of the town’s huckster. Both of them want out of the quiet little place where both of them feel stifled, and it is in Dublin where they begin to fall in love. But passion and city freedom lead them to choices that endanger Clare’s only shot at education and set them at odds with both families.
When fate takes them back to Castlebay, destructive forces begin to work against them, and it is Clare—left defenseless—who has too much to lose.
Notes: For the first three-quarters of this story, I loved it. For most of the last quarter, I had my arm drawn back, ready to send the book flying against the far wall. Binchy held off anything resembling resolution for the main characters to the last two or three pages, and all I can say about that without spoiling it entirely is that though it was nowhere near a rainbows and unicorns ending, I didn’t throw the book across the room after all.
Binchy, despite her stylistic licentiousness regarding commas and her tendency to pose questions without using a question mark (one of my pet peeves), is a fantastic storyteller. Her people live and think and feel with the beautiful and awful, hilarious and poignant inconsistencies of reality. The situations she describes are relatively everyday—at least, the everyday of small-town Irish Catholic life circa 1960—but they hold the reader’s attention nonetheless.
The history, odd as it feels to use that term for something as recent as the Fifties and Sixties, was interesting. Set in the last years before Vatican II unleashed its mixed bag of major changes upon the Catholic Church, Echoes snaps a picture of the time within the place: firm country traditionalism, unexamined and unfair as it often is, and yet both beautiful and correct in its way; young people caught up in education and city anonymity, trying their strength against the boundaries of morality and stigma and scandal.
The one fault I found with this book was that in a couple of respects, it was Circle of Friends, second verse. In both novels, the boys did what they did for the same halfwitted reasons and justified themselves with the same witless excuses. I'd have appreciated it if one of them had at least pretended to understand that he was in the wrong. But in this case, it was worse; it seemed an unnecessary, even irresponsible inclusion—a method not of developing the primary characters, but of bringing the Gerry Doyle plot thread to its climax. It's not unimaginable that I've missed the point, however.
All that aside, I had little trouble understanding and loving most of the characters. Angela O’Hara might have been my favorite; brilliant and beautiful and single, desperate to do the right thing while avoiding scandal. She was absolutely sympathetic. Clare suffered so much that I could not do less than love her, though at one point—maybe two or three—she could have used a stiff talking-to, not that it would have worked. Mary Catherine and Valerie and Josie are humanly lovable friends with very believable weaknesses and strengths.
There were a handful of characters who were unsympathetic or difficult at some level, and in every case the author controlled this fabulously. Molly Power and Gerry Doyle and Sean O’Hara are too ordinary to seem like villains, but they come off all the more villainous because of their ordinariness. Shuya makes herself both problem and solution. Chrissie is a mess and a mystery.
I don’t know how I feel about David. I may never decide that. I don’t see him as loathsome as, say, Kristin Lavransdatter’s Erlend, but he’s not Taylor Caldwell’s Luke either.
Dick Dillon, however—there’s a man and a hero for you. Father Flynn, likewise.
Perhaps I should say one more thing about the ending. As noted before, it’s not rainbows and unicorns. It’s not entirely satisfactory, and everybody doesn’t get their perfect understanding of just how bad they were and how they ought to go on. It is, however, a step toward redemption. And I appreciated that.
Recommendation: Read it for small-town sensibilities, for history and humanity. For the quiet battle of fallible, resilent courage and faith against terrible sin and suffering.