Published in 1996. 537 pages.
For some reason, this is the first Maeve Binchy book I've ever read. My mom has recommended some of her books to me in the past, and earlier this year, as we were discussing some of our favorite authors, several members of my book club praised her. Still, it took my friend Cynthia picking Evening Class for the September book club meeting to get me on the bandwagon. I didn't know what to expect - and I'm still not sure whether I can expect more of the same - but I found this novel to be a pleasure!
The characters of Evening Class remind me a bit of Anne Tyler's characters - interesting, even a bit eccentric, but definitely lovable - at least the "good" ones, as there are also some "villians" in the book. One of my favorite aspects of this novel comes from the fact that while it overall is the tale of the experiences of an Italian class as a group, it is divided into six or seven sections in which the story of one particular character is told - with insights into the other characters with whom he or she comes into contact over time, both before and after the class is formed - and then ending with the class taking a trip to Italy together. As I started the second section, it seemed to have no relationship at all with the first one, but when I saw the first tie between them, it was a delightful surprise. Throughout the book, I enjoyed so much how these various people's lives where interwoven. It could have seemed overly contrived, I guess, but it wasn't. Evening Class is storytelling at its best!
Some of the things that Binchy has her characters say also delighted me. Here are two examples:
Signora: "I'm not ever going to be interested in a man again."
Suzi: "Oh, I said that after the second-last fellow, but suddenly the interest came back."
Bill: "Do I look like an owl?"
Grania: "Of course not."
Bill: "It's not even as if I wore glasses. I suppose I have a round face and sort of straight hair."
Grania: "Owls don't have hair at all, they have feathers."
Bill: "Then what makes them think I'm like one?"
Finally, I enjoyed many of Binchy's decriptions of love and life. Again, two examples:
What part of the human mind or body was so inefficient that it could make you think you loved someone so wildly unsuitable?
She wasn't happy. Of course she wasn't happy. But then Connie thought that a lot of people lived like that, hoping that things would get better, and that lights would turn on, or the film turn into Technicolor. Maybe that's the way most people lived, and all this talk about happiness was for the birds.
What I'm wondering now - having seen a few random statements about Binchy's work on various sites as I searched for an image of the book cover - is which of her additional novels I should add to my to-be-read list. For one thing, I read a statement that Evening Class was her first novel set in contemporary times - and I suspect I might enjoy another time frame less. I also saw a reference to recurring characters from Evening Class in later novels; that possibility sounds fun to explore. If you've read Binchy, let me know what you'd recommend!
By the way, Evening Class was on raidergirl3's list for the "Something About Me" Challenge. I had not chosen it as one of my original "five plus five" - but I might as well post about it for the challenge too! (That post is here.)