Maeve Binchy played a huge part, and arguably the crucial part, in legitimising popular fiction of all stripes in Ireland. Time and again she demonstrated that you didn’t need to differentiate between good writing and popular writing, and she did so by writing about ordinary Irish people and their ordinary Irish concerns, in the process, a la Patrick Kavanagh, making it all extraordinary. She will be sadly missed. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.
I had a piece published in the Irish Examiner last Wednesday, in which some of Maeve’s peers spoke about her influence on successive generations of writers. It opened up a lot like this:
With the death of Maeve Binchy at the age of 72, Ireland has lost one of its leading literary lights.For the rest, clickety-click here …
“I don’t think that Maeve was ever accorded the same kind of respect that some of the novelists who are considered more literary received,” says her colleague Sheila O’Flanagan, “but I think her storytelling certainly set a benchmark for commercial fiction that is very high and rarely surpassed.”
Her place in the pantheon of great Irish writers has long been secured, but for many years Binchy has served as another kind of leading light, as a literary pathfinder who guided and inspired a younger generation.
“It was simply the fact that she made it okay to write about Ireland,” says Marian Keyes. “I remember reading The Lilac Bus, I suppose I was about 17, and that was back in the days when nothing Irish was any good. All our things were just crap versions of US or UK TV shows or bands or books or whatever. And suddenly, somebody was writing about the Ireland we all knew. So that gave me confidence when I came to write, to think, ‘I don’t have to pretend to be English or American.’”
Nor was it necessary to want to emulate James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, et al.
“That was it as well,” Marian agrees. “The way she wrote was so conversational, and it was so true to how people talked, how Irish people are.”