The village of Castlebay is a tiny little place atop some cliffs on the coast of Ireland. In the summer visitors flock to the little caravan park and the houses for rent, but in the winter the place is deathly quiet. In the late fifties three restless children grow up together in Castlebay: Clare, the daughter of the shopkeeper, who works and works to earn a scholarship to college; David, the son of the doctor, destined to follow in his father's footsteps but dreaming of much more; and Gerry, dark and gypsy-like, and a total heart-breaker. Echoes follows their stories as they intertwine over the next decade - they all manage to break free of the paths set by their parents, but will they ever escape the echo of their past?
I read Maeve Binchy for the comfort - the falling into a different pace of life, where villagers gossip to each other, and often marrying right is the only ambition a girl might have. At the same time as being slightly frustrated at the backwards attitudes on show, I like to reflect on how such a short time ago abortions were completely taboo, women didn't study and classes mattered so much more than they do these days.
Echoes is a different breed of Binchy - rather than the usually uplifting and ultimately hopeful tale she tells, this is a dark and disturbed tale in the most part. The ending is truly tragic and few of the characters are very likable.
I struggled to read to the end - it felt akin to watching Eastenders or Coronation Street (unnecessarily bleak and gloomy). When your escapist go-to comfort read is a little too much like real life, it becomes less escapism and more realism.
Having said that, I enjoyed Binchy's portrayal of life in what seems to be a foreign land. The idea of a village who couldn't accept a priest who had decided to marry; the fact that gay people were referred to in horrified terms; the way that post-natal depression is laughed away (how can any woman be depressed when she has achieved what God intended her to do?) It is almost a form of historical research, since Binchy shows easily the fishbowl view of living in a village.
This particular quote emphasises the attitudes of the time: "Don't boast of it, you little tramp. Don't stand there like a slut in my kitchen and tell me what you were eager for and what you weren't. You've ruined us all in this family. We'll be the laughing stock of the place - marrying into the Powers no less. Do you think that Mrs Power is going to let the likes of you cross her doorstep? Do you think that woman is going to let her son, with the fine education he has, marry a girl from a shop in Castlebay?"
As I said, there are very few truly likable characters - even the best of them have moments where you wish you could throw the book across the room because of their manners, or beliefs, or actions. I never like adultery in a book, and the occurrence of it in Echoes is particularly heart-breaking, which made it very hard to endure.
I wasn't a fan of the story. I enjoyed the writing and enjoyed the historical relevance of the novel, but the actual plot and characters let Echoes down in a big way. If you're going for a Maeve Binchy novel for the comfort, I would suggest either Circle of Friends or Firefly Summer. If you do happen to like dark and bleak sagas with a heavy dose of tragedy, then this should prove very satisfactory.