Between the Covers: Stories from My Bookcase

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Copper Beech by Maeve Binchy

Shancarrig is a small Irish town. Its cultural center is probably the schoolhouse where all its children have gone to school. The schoolhouse is sheltered by a huge copper beech tree. It’s leaves and branches not only provide shade, its huge trunk is also sort of a yearbook for all-time. At the end of each school year, it is here that all students carve their names and those of their loves. There it remains for all time.

I got a second-hand copy of this book from Pick-a-book, my favorite used bookshop at ABS-CBN’s ELJ building (is it still there?). That means I got it before I moved companies, almost two years ago. It was only 130 pesos. Money well spent. Smile

Photo Jul 01, 5 33 29 PM

Maeve Binchy is one of my favorite authors. Whenever I see any of her books on the shelves, I’d check if I have it, and most likely buy it when I’m sure I still don’t. I don’t even care what the plot is, that’s how sure I am that I will like it anyway.

This is the first of her titles though that I didn’t quite like right away. Or maybe it was because the first person whose story was shared was Maddy Ross. She was Junior Assistant Mistress at the Shancarrig School who lived with her mother in a small cottage. I generally liked her, but not the direction that her friendship with the young Father Barry took. Or maybe because it took awhile before I could make sense of where it was all going. What was the point of it all?

In other Binchy books I was already used to her style of character building. And I liked how she weaves the stories of each character into a big picture. For Copper Beech though, that big picture was a long time coming.

No matter how small Shancarrig is, though everybody knows everybody, there are still secrets. Secret hopes, dreams, secret lives. One cannot fully understand the reasons behind people’s behavior by just mere observation. Not everything is always as they seem.

I don’t have just one favorite character from this small town. It’s a toss up between Maura, Nessa, and Eddie. Maura was such a hard worker. I hated that Gerry O’Sullivan for leaving her after the birth of Michael. But she kept her home and she raised him well. I think a lesson or two could be learned from Maura’s life. She knew she wasn’t much good for academics, so she sought work that she was sure she could do and she was good at it. I see that as technical skills’ education and application versus pursuing a college degree.

Eddie I liked because he was such a good son. He was different from all the other boys and he was okay with it. He found love in an unusual way (for his time). And I love his wife too, she truly belonged with them.

I didn’t like Nessa when Maura’s story was being told. They were supposed to be school friends, why had she been that way? Why did she have to follow what her mom told her? But she’s got her own strengths. She was smartest of all the girls in their batch definitely, but I did wish she was more sensitive about what her other friends were going through. She could have been there more for poor young Leo Murphy, or even for Maura. She grew up to be like her mother, a better version definitely. I think that if parents shared their stories with their children the way Mrs. Ryan did with Nessa, there’d be more lessons learned and lesser mistakes.

So what was the bigger picture?

The school Master and Mistress were assigned to a new school, and Shancarrig school eventually closed maybe 15 years after the characters graduated from there. The schoolhouse was up for sale and its former children were very much interested in buying it. Each with his/her own reason. Who prevails? That is the question.