Heart and Soul

By Maeve Binchy
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Knopf, (2/17/2009)
Language:English



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“[Maeve] Binchy makes you laugh, cry, and care. Her warmth and sympathy render the daily struggles of ordinary people heroic and turn storytelling into art.” –San Francisco Chronicle

With the insight, humor, and compassion we have come to expect from her, Maeve Binchy tells a story of family, friends, patients, and staff who are part of a heart clinic in a community caught between the old and the new Ireland.

Dr. Clara Casey has been offered the thankless job of establishing the underfunded clinic and agrees to take it on for a year. She has plenty on her plate already–two difficult adult daughters and the unwanted attentions of her ex-husband–but she assembles a wonderfully diverse staff devoted to helping their demanding, often difficult patients.

Before long the clinic is established as an essential part of the community, and Clara must decide whether or not to leave a place where lives are saved, courage is rewarded, and humor and optimism triumph over greed and self-pity. Heart and Soul is Maeve Binchy at her storytelling best.
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"Heart and Soul"
By Maeve Binchy

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 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

1. Have you read any of Maeve Binchy's other books? If you've encountered any of these characters before, how did this new novel deepen your understanding of them? If you haven't, which characters would you like to spend more time with?

2. It's clear what the “heart” of the title refers to, but who-or what-is the “soul”?

3. The heart clinic is the embodiment of a new idea that advocates teaching people about their health without having to go to a hospital or to a doctor who may not have much time to spend with an individual patient. Why do you think the heart clinic is a good idea? Is there such a thing in your town or neighborhood?

4. There are many different mothers in the novel. Who does Binchy portray as a good mother? In what ways? Which mother would you most like to have as your own?

5. How are Binchy's mother-daughter relationships different from her mother-son ones?

6. Why does Clara find it easier to be kind to Ania than to her daughters Adi or Linda?

7. Clara is a firm believer in the “curative powers of being busy” (page 23). How does this affect her in her career? In her personal life?

8. It is very difficult to make decisions about your parents when they are older. Was Hilary right to try to keep her mother at home with her?

9. There are two car accidents in the novel. How does each one change the course of the story?

10. What role does the “new Ireland” play in Heart and Soul? Is Quentins part of the new Ireland and if so how? What other aspects of this novel reflect the new Ireland?

11. Discuss the bigotry Ania faces, especially by Rosemary. In what ways is the treatment of new immigrants different in Ireland than it is in this country?

12. Several of the women have had relationships with abusive and entirely untrustworthy men. How does their prior history affect their current romances? Are these relationships healthier than the previous ones because of the men involved, or have the women themselves changed?

13. The pharmacist, Peter Barry, seems as if he would be a good husband. What made Clara realize that he wasn't the man for her? Do you think she was right in her decision?

14. On page 148, Ania says, “I like this word peaceable. It's what I would like to be.” Does she achieve this goal? How does her new-found peace help in her encounters with Rosemary?

15. Was Eileen Edwards genuinely delusional, or do you think she had another reason for blackmailing Father Flynn? What did you think of Johnny's solution to Father Flynn's problem? Who benefited the most from the resolution?

16. Twice in the novel, characters state, “We always regret what we don't do, rarely what we do do.” Who follows this code to the greatest advantage? Is there anyone who should apply it but doesn't?

17. Who is the most contented character in the novel? The most disappointed? What role does money play in their happiness?

18. On page 393, Declan says to Rosemary “May you get what you deserve in life.” Does she? Which of Binchy's characters doesn't?

19. Who was your favorite character and why?

20. What do you imagine happens next between Clara and Frank?

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From Publishers Weekly
Binchy delivers another delightful Binchyesque amalgamation of intersecting lives, this time centering on Clara Casey, a cardiologist whose marriage and career have fallen apart. After she accepts an undesirable post at St. Brigid's Hospital, Clara throws herself into work to forget the humiliation of her husband's many affairs, but it's difficult to escape her home life with two adult daughters who still depend on her as if they were children. Though she stands at the center of the book, Clara cedes the stage to others, such as Declan Carroll, a young doctor at the clinic trying to make a life for himself, and Ania, Clara's assistant, whose affair with a married man forced her to leave her Polish hometown. Beautiful, hardworking and humble, Ania attracts the attention of Carl Walsh, the son of one of the clinic's patients. And so it goes in this novel of intersecting lives that keeps daily drama interesting even when it occasionally sacrifices suspense for realism. In spite of a few dull moments, the collective, charming effect of these story lines suggests that individuals are more connected than they might think. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 

From The Washington Post
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Bill Sheehan You don't have to be Irish -- or wait for St. Patrick's Day -- to give these entertaining novels by Maeve Binchy and Frank Delaney a try. Binchy's latest, "Heart and Soul," begins with the establishment of St. Brigid's heart clinic, a small, self-contained community within Dublin. Clara Casey, a cardiologist whose complex personal life includes a pair of difficult daughters and a philandering ex-husband, agrees to run the fledgling clinic for a single year and begins the process of recruiting a suitable staff. The intertwined stories of these doctors and nurses, together with the patients who come to rely on them, form the substance of this likable, sometimes frustrating book. Binchy is adept at juggling multiple story lines and creating genuine drama out of the quotidian problems of life: illness, accidents, misunderstandings, romantic and sexual betrayal. Her work reflects a pervasive generosity of spirit and projects a reassuring quality that is, I think, a central element of her enduring popularity. Binchy believes, with bedrock certainty, that people who possess the necessary measure of good sense, goodwill and energy can overcome, or learn to endure, whatever comes their way. That can be a potent -- and very welcome -- message. Ultimately, the linked stories in "Heart and Soul" constitute an ongoing account of "battles . . . fought and won," of crippling circumstances, like the illnesses that afflict the patients at St. Brigid's, brought slowly but inevitably under human control. All this might resonate more powerfully if the writing were more distinguished. Unfortunately, Binchy's language -- both dialogue and prose -- is rarely more than workmanlike and efficient. At its worst, it descends to the level of low-rent romance fiction. When a priest confronts a deranged young woman, his "big, honest face was aghast at her cunning." A pair of conspiring matchmakers succeed "beyond their wildest dreams." Speaking of her ailing husband, one woman declares: "If anything happened to Aidan, I would not want to live. . . . I couldn't bear a day or night without him now and without seeing his dear face." Despite such lapses, this good-hearted, otherwise quite readable novel offers many honest pleasures and deserves the success it will no doubt achieve. Like Binchy, Frank Delaney is a middling stylist but an engaging, often compelling storyteller. His best-selling epic, "Ireland" (2005), recapitulates the nation's history though the songs and stories of a wandering bard. His latest, "Shannon," is considerably narrower in scope, focusing on the gradual healing of a single damaged soul during the troubled summer of 1922. The title refers both to the long, meandering river that dominates the Irish landscape and to the novel's deeply disturbed protagonist, Robert Shannon. Father Shannon has come to Ireland in the hope of recovering from two distinct crises: his experiences as a chaplain in World War I, which left him traumatized and virtually catatonic, and his subsequent encounter with corruption at the highest levels of the archdiocese of Boston. He arrives in Ireland at a crucial historical moment: The Irish Civil War, a byproduct of the divisive Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, has just broken out, and the countryside is up in arms. Against this backdrop of political strife and imminent personal danger, Shannon travels up and down the river, searching for his family's roots and for the sense of spiritual coherence that disappeared in the trenches of France. Delaney handles Shannon's therapeutic journey with sympathy and skill, introducing a diverse cast of Irish characters and layering the narrative with the sort of arcane native lore -- historical, cultural and geographic -- that adds a welcome depth of background to the central story. His descriptions of the condition once known as shell shock are detailed and convincing, though his obvious affection for his suffering hero sometimes leads to simplistic overstatement. For example, he describes the young, prewar Father Shannon as a man "incapable of anything but good," a daunting claim to make on anyone's behalf. A more serious problem is the introduction of a dubious -- and lengthy -- subplot involving a hired killer dispatched to Ireland to prevent Father Shannon from divulging what he knows about corrupt practices in America's Catholic hierarchy. This unfortunate turn toward melodrama undermines the narrative for long, unnecessary stretches but doesn't quite destroy it. In the end, Delaney holds his flawed creation together through his considerable narrative gifts and his unapologetic belief in human decency and the healing power of the past.
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

Review
"Good-hearted [and] entertaining...[Heart and Soul] reflects a pervasive generosity of spirit [and] offers many honest pleasures." –Bill Sheehan, The Washington Post

"Another delightful Binchyesque amalgamation of intersecting lives...the collective, charming effect of these story lines suggests that individuals are more connected than they might think." –Publishers Weekly

"Only a curmudgeon could resist this master of cheerful, read-by-the-fire comfort." –Kirkus Reviews

"Interweaving the domestic narratives of a dissimilar collection of individuals is beloved Binchy's stock-in-trade, and once again, she does so with sublime ease, inventively engaging readers through a reassuring and persuasive combination of gracious warmth, gentle humor, and genuine affection." –Carol Haggas, Booklist

“Ambitious and intelligently conceived...A heart clinic is really the perfect metaphor for how this book feels. It's a warm and comfy world [and reading Heart and Soul is] not unlike getting a hug from your mother...Binchy's millions-strong readership...will not be disappointed.” –William Kowalski, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Oh, the bliss...Maeve's back, on top form...The heart is the theme, literally and metaphorically, and this is heartwarming stuff–sweet but never cloying." –The Times

"[Maeve Binchy] knows how to fashion a minor drama into a crisis, and the book rattles along from one gripping story to another, leaving the reader with a satisfying glow...It does exactly what it says on the tin: gives heart and soul." –Daily Mail

"[Heart and Soul] brings together the secret hopes and dreams of a disparate group of characters...with [Binchy's] trademark warmth and empathy." –Irish Sunday Independent
--This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.

Review
"Good-hearted [and] entertaining...[Heart and Soul] reflects a pervasive generosity of spirit [and] offers many honest pleasures." –Bill Sheehan, The Washington Post

"Another delightful Binchyesque amalgamation of intersecting lives...the collective, charming effect of these story lines suggests that individuals are more connected than they might think." –Publishers Weekly

"Only a curmudgeon could resist this master of cheerful, read-by-the-fire comfort." –Kirkus Reviews

"Interweaving the domestic narratives of a dissimilar collection of individuals is beloved Binchy's stock-in-trade, and once again, she does so with sublime ease, inventively engaging readers through a reassuring and persuasive combination of gracious warmth, gentle humor, and genuine affection." –Carol Haggas, Booklist

“Ambitious and intelligently conceived...A heart clinic is really the perfect metaphor for how this book feels. It's a warm and comfy world [and reading Heart and Soul is] not unlike getting a hug from your mother...Binchy's millions-strong readership...will not be disappointed.” –William Kowalski, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"Oh, the bliss...Maeve's back, on top form...The heart is the theme, literally and metaphorically, and this is heartwarming stuff–sweet but never cloying." –The Times

"[Maeve Binchy] knows how to fashion a minor drama into a crisis, and the book rattles along from one gripping story to another, leaving the reader with a satisfying glow...It does exactly what it says on the tin: gives heart and soul." –Daily Mail

"[Heart and Soul] brings together the secret hopes and dreams of a disparate group of characters...with [Binchy's] trademark warmth and empathy." –Irish Sunday Independent

"Maeve Binchy's latest novel is packed as usual with wonderful characters...Full of warmth, caring and commonsense." –CHOICE

Product Description
“[Maeve] Binchy makes you laugh, cry, and care. Her warmth and sympathy render the daily struggles of ordinary people heroic and turn storytelling into art.” –San Francisco Chronicle

With the insight, humor, and compassion we have come to expect from her, Maeve Binchy tells a story of family, friends, patients, and staff who are part of a heart clinic in a community caught between the old and the new Ireland.

Dr. Clara Casey has been offered the thankless job of establishing the underfunded clinic and agrees to take it on for a year. She has plenty on her plate already–two difficult adult daughters and the unwanted attentions of her ex-husband–but she assembles a wonderfully diverse staff devoted to helping their demanding, often difficult patients.

Before long the clinic is established as an essential part of the community, and Clara must decide whether or not to leave a place where lives are saved, courage is rewarded, and humor and optimism triumph over greed and self-pity. Heart and Soul is Maeve Binchy at her storytelling best. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.




A Conversation with Maeve Binchy

 
Question: Your novels often explore the concept of love. Can you name a few of your favorite literary love stories?
Maeve Binchy: I think most people read a love story long before they ever know what true love is like. So we remember the great passions that we read about when we were young. I loved the story of Anthony and Cleopatra, and how Anthony allowed himself to dally with the Queen of Egypt when he should have been back in Rome watching his back. I liked the frenetic, troubled romances in F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the changing patterns of Scarlett O’Hara’s love life in Gone with the Wind.

Q: Heart and Soul is set in a heart clinic. Why did you choose this setting and how does it influence the story?
MB: I set Heart and Soul in a heart clinic because I attend one myself. I have always found it a place of hope and optimism where they teach you how to manage your heart disease and not to be afraid of it. When I was young if anyone had a heart attack we thought it was goodbye. But not nowadays.

It seemed like a good place to set a story, a place where people were slowly getting courage to live their lives to the fullest. And I wanted to make it cheerful and positive and funny, which is what we all need.

Q: The book centers on Clara, the doctor in charge of the clinic, but the book also follows quite an ensemble of characters with intertwining stories. How does your work within the discipline of short story writing contribute to your work within the novel genre?
MB: I like to concentrate on the bit part players, the supporting cast as well as the main characters, so it’s often interesting to pause and follow somebody home to a different life while still connecting them to the main story. Then when that person appears again it is like meeting an old friend.

Because I do write short stories I suppose I find it easy to slip into someone’s life for a short time and then leave.

Q: New characters are joined by a few from past books, including Nora from Evening Class, Maud and Simon from Scarlet Feather, and Quentins itself (if I can call a restaurant a character). How did you decide which characters to bring back to life?
MB: I decided to bring back characters whose lives were not finished and tidied up. I was even wondering myself would Vonni ever find her long lost son? Would Signora be happy when she married Aidan? How the twins Maud and Simon would turn out when they stopped being twelve year olds. I wondered would poor Father Flynn, who was so basically decent, survive in the parish where they were all obsessed with the Holy Well or would he get a more relevant posting. I so enjoyed meeting them all again and I think the readers like it too.

Q: Irish culture is known for its storytelling, both in the oral and written tradition. Do you also enjoy telling stories out loud? Are you the life of the dinner party?
MB: The Irish do love telling stories and we are suspicious of people who don’t have long complicated conversations. There used to be a rule in Etiquette Books that you invited four talkers and four listeners to a dinner party. That doesn’t work in Ireland because nobody knows four listeners. I do talk a lot at dinner parties--I hope not too much but then I love other people to talk also. I am edgy and anxious when people just nod and smile instead of having views on every subject under the sun.

Q: Your books capture the culture of Ireland. Although Ireland has not escaped the recent economic downturn, how has Ireland’s rapid growth--finally joining the ranks of the world’s wealthiest countries following centuries of poverty--influenced your storytelling?
MB: Ireland changed a great deal in my lifetime. People became much more wealthy because of being members of the European community. The influence of the Catholic Church changed--once we feared the clergy and were in awe of them and now it is much easier and more communal. Once no foreigners came to work here since there wasn’t enough work for ourselves, but now it’s multicultural and you could hear twenty languages being spoken all around you. It has been a great help to the country and given us all more confidence.

Q: Your first book was published in 1982. Has your writing process changed over the years? How do you continue to challenge yourself?
MB: When I started writing I used to concentrate on the 50s and 60s when I was young, but I needed to try to become more modern and catch up on today’s Ireland. So I started to watch the young Irish people and talk to them as if they were a different tribe, which in many ways they are!

I discovered that they are not so different to my generation, they have more freedom, more responsibility and more courage than we had but they also have areas of uncertainty and unrequited love as we all did.

Q: What are you working on next?
MB: I am working at the moment on writing a three page outline for another novel. I must make it interesting enough for the publishers to like it and give me the go ahead. It should be in the same style as the books I have already written but not visit the same topics and repeat myself.

Q: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
MB: A typical day is breakfast (grapefruit and Irish soda bread and tea), then on to a big bright work room upstairs. [My husband and I] both try to be at our desks there at 8:30 am and we work until 1 pm. This includes answering mail and filing. We have a secretary one day a week. Then when work is over we have lunch and play a game of chess--we play seven days a week and have been doing so for over thirty years and we are still hopeless at it but love it to bits.

Q: With two writers in one household, do you and your husband give each other feedback or work separately?
MB: We have one long desk in our study upstairs--Gordon [Snell] is at one end and I am at the other. He writes his children’s books and verses and I do my stories. We always read each other our work in the afternoon. The rules are that we must be honest. No false praise. We allow the other ten minutes sulking time if we don’t like what we’ve heard. But then we have to accept or reject the criticism. No one is allowed to brood over it!

Q: What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?
MB: I have just begun Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, which seems terrific. There are so many but off the top of my head here are some names of authors I love: Anne Tyler, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, and David Baldacci.

(Photo © David Timmons)


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About the Author
Maeve Binchy
is the author of numerous best-selling books, including her most recent novel, Whitethorn Woods, in addition to Nights of Rain and Stars, Quentins, Scarlet Feather, Circle of Friends, and Tara Road, which was an Oprah Book Club selection. She has written for Gourmet; O, The Oprah Magazine; and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. She and her husband, Gordon Snell, live in Dalkey, Ireland, and London.


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