Big generous-hearted Benny and the elfin Eve Malone have been best friends throughout their childhoods in sleepy Knockglen. When they both go to study in Dublin, they meet a circle of friends that includes handsome Jack Foley and the selfish but beautiful Nan Mahon - whose ambitions will drag them all into trouble.
As Knockglen is surprised into new life the two girls, Benny and Eve, discover that among the many distractions of growing up true friendship is the greatest gift of all.
The joy of a Maeve Binchy novel - and Circle of Friends is no exception (in fact, is probably the best example of this) - is that you are utterly drawn into the lives of the characters. Binchy doesn't concern herself with a clever plot (here, the essence of the plot is that Benny and Eve head off to university in Dublin, and deals with the repercussions of what happens after this); rather, she wants to describe how her characters deal with life. There are never lengthy descriptions of place - dialogue is the manner in which Binchy drives her story.
So, if Binchy had been unable to write dialogue, her novels would fail in a big way. Luckily, Binchy has an absolutely unerring ear for dialogue. Her characters talk so naturally, to the point that reading Circle of Friends feels like evesdropping on a conversation between real people.
I particularly love Circle of Friends because it is a true coming of age story - two girls leaving a sleepy village and dealing with the bright lights of Dublin. Finding themselves; discovering new friends, but learning that their true and strong friendship is the best thing by far to help them survive the trials and tribulations of their new life.
In addition to this, Benny has to try and extract herself from a constricting home life to find the freedom necessary to enjoy her new life. I really appreciated this aspect of the story, since I think many young people are familiar with the idea of parents not wanting to let go and still trying to exert control over their children. Benny's frustrations were written with a ring of truth.
Maeve Binchy's novel are like a literary hug - warm and gentle, with a surprising wit and wisdom, and I think that Circle of Friends is the best of them.