Firefly Summer tells the story of the sleepy town of Mountfern, as an American, Patrick O'Brian, comes home to find his roots and build a huge hotel on the ruined location of the old house. It explores the changing relationships of the townsfolk as a tragic accident divides Mountfern. There is not masses of plot in the book; rather, it builds a picture of Irish village life in the 1950s as we spend a few years with the family of Ryans who own the public house.
Maeve Binchy's books are incredibly easy reading - a little old-fashioned and incredibly gossipy. We drift into the village of Mountfern, and are gradually introduced to the various people who live in the village. Binchy has such a deft touch in showing each of the characters through random encounters and conversations, so that we are able to discover them without any resort to the dreaded info-dump. It genuinely feels as though a friend is having a coffee with you and telling you about mutual friends' lives.
I like the fact that Binchy doesn't flinch away from presenting the horrors of a mundane life - those issues that anyone could be afflicted by, such as adultery, alcoholism and disability. It gives the novel a sense of realism.
Binchy's true strength is dialogue and human relationships - she has a unique understanding of women and their friendships.
In fact, the only element of the book that I found slightly dissatisfying was the fact that Binchy doesn't show men in the best light. Most of them are having affairs, or beating their wives, or running off to other counties. There are some decent men, but it is extremely noticeable that there are more bad men than good.
Binchy is the forerunner of such authors as Sheila O'Flanagan, Patricia Scanlan and Marian Keyes - showcasing Irish life with gentle humour and understanding. I love her books and they are ideal for those times when you require something easy and undemanding. I would recommend these on a winter's afternoon, when you're tucked next to a roaring fire with a hot chocolate - the feel of the novel is exactly right for those moments. Enjoyable.