Circle of Friends (1990)

by Maeve Binchy

At the center of the circle in Maeve Binchy’s novel, set in 1950s Ireland, is Benny (Bernadette), an adored only child with big bones and a big heart. Surrounding her are friends, lovers, and rivals — among them, Eve Malone, an orphan raised by nuns; Nan Mahon, a selfish beauty determined to rise above her working class origins; Jack Foley, a handsome doctor’s son who could have his pick of coeds and falls for Benny; and Sean Welsh, an odious employee in Benny’s father’s clothing shop who is intent on marrying into the business.

Best friends Benny and Eve graduate from the small Irish village of Knockglen to University College Dublin. Even though Benny’s overprotective parents insist that she return home on the bus every evening, she and Jack become a romantic duo. Then events in Benny’s family and her circle contrive to distance them.

Circle of Friends has a depth that’s not always characteristic of Binchy’s novels. Benny experiences love, grief, betrayal, loss, and swindling and learns to deal with them all. Those who have seen the movie may be surprised that the happily ever after romantic ending was not in Binchy’s plot.

Binchy is known for her ability to create a world and to tell a good story. Circle of Friends is a splendid example.


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