Maeve Binchy books to me are what a comfort blanket is to a baby. The ultimate go-to read when I want to access my Inner Feel-Good Factor.
I thought I had read just about every novel written by the Marvellous Maeve - then I came across “Minding Frankie” in the book-shelves of the Guild Care charity shop and was as sure as I could be that this was a story yet to be revealed.
It’s not that Maeve Binchy doesn’t deal with tricky topics: “Minding Frankie” covers death, alcoholism, the enduring legacies of dysfunctional family
life. It’s the story of young Noel, an alcoholic no-hoper, who discovers he is to be a father to a baby born to a dying mother. Minding Frankie will either make him or break him.
Two very different women are doing their best to influence the turn of events. Moira is the social worker who believes Frankie will be far better off adopted by a steady nuclear family. It’s an unsympathetic portrayal of a social
worker which my sister, herself a former social worker specialising in child protection, will almost certainly think is unfair. Plus Moira’s back story is unremittingly sad, going a long way to explain her stance when it comes to wanting every baby to
have a guaranteed happy childhood. As readers, however, our sympathies are all with Noel so even acknowledging the sadness in Moira’s life doesn’t make us like her better.
The other woman is Emily, the American cousin who arrives in the community and ever so gently shakes it up, somehow seeing what is needed to bring folk together, to help them realise their dreams and to hold Noel together until he
is strong enough to stand alone. I found the comparison between the two women and the way each chose to work, fascinating.
As is usual with Maeve Binchy novels
there is a massive cast of characters, many recognised from previous books. I sometimes felt as if I needed a family tree, and / or a map of the village so that I could ensure I was making the right connections.
At the heart of the story is Frankie - and the way a whole community comes together to help Noel bring her up and keep her safe. The end of the story is both heart-breaking and heart-warming.