Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party

'Fatty-O'LearyAlexander McCall Smith leads his main character Fatty O’Leary through a series of travel misadventures in his short novel – Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party. On his first trip from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Ireland, land of his roots, Fatty encounters trouble, from his tight squeeze in the airplane seat to his inadvertent purchase of a horse at an Irish auction.  Despite continuing obstacles, Fatty is determined to enjoy his vacation, while maintaining his sense of humor and kindness.

Fatty’s trials will have you laughing and commiserating with him, especially if you have recently traveled.  I just sent the book to friends who are planning their first trip to Ireland – theirs will be better than Fatty’s, I’m sure, but not as hilarious.

Maeve Binchy

One of my book clubs has Maeve Binchy’s Quentins as the focus for discussion this week. I used one of Binchy’s books (Copper Beach) to prepare for a trip to Ireland years ago, and, of course, remember Minnie Driver as Benny in the movie adaptation of “Circle of Friends.”

Margalit Fox noted in her New York Times obituary of Binchy:

Though her pages were rife with faithless lovers, alcoholism, unwanted pregnancies and even murder, Ms. Binchy resisted being described as a romance novelist. For one thing, she pointed out, her heroines were less inclined to win the dashing hero than they were to learn to live, quite capably, without him.

In response to criticism of her as a commercial rather than a literary writer, Binchy noted…

“I’m mainly an airport author, and if you’re trying to take your mind off the journey, you’re not going to read ‘King Lear,’ ” she told The Irish Times in 2000. “I’ve seen a lot of people buy my books and then fall asleep on the plane soon afterwards.”

I just downloaded her last book – A Week in Winter – finished before she died in July 2012 – to my Kindle. A feisty heroine converts an old house on the west coast of Ireland into a hotel… secrets, families, and local lore. Might be good reading for my next trip.

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The Story of Lucy Gault

Beginning during the Irish upheaval of the early twentieth century, William Trevor’s tale of a young girl left behind - The Story of Lucy Gault – has a lilting Irish tone that turns the consequences of political unrest and attitude into a haunting tale. If not for author Heather Barbieri’s list of best books, I would have missed it.

When Captain Gault, a veteran of the British army and landowner in the beautiful area of Lahardane in Ireland, shoots at a group of young men who have poisoned his dogs and are trying to burn down his house, he wounds one and his pastoral life in Ireland ends. Although he is not the criminal, he tries in vain to make restitution to the family of the wounded boy. Realizing the assaults will continue, he decides to leave Ireland and relocate to Britain with his wife and young daughter, Lucy.

Reluctant to leave the only home and friends she has known, Lucy runs away. When her vest and sandal are found near the water, she is presumed dead, and her distraught parents begin an anonymous pilgrimage to lose themselves.

If you like to be surprised, you will want to stop reading here – but do find this book. Trevor is an Irish author, so expect angst and depression along with the tale of loyalty, regret, love and forgiveness – short listed for the Man Booker Award in 2002.

Spoiler Alert:

A week later, Lucy, who broke her ankle and has been foraging in the woods, is found, but her parents have traveled on without a trace. Lucy stays on at the house and farm, with the help of the cook and groundskeeper who return to the house to live with her; the family Solicitor finances her simple lifestyle and initiates the futile search for Lucy’s parents. The story continues to follow Lucy’s self-imposed exile – waiting for her parents to return; the parents as they keep moving to forget the daughter they think they have lost; and the tortured life of the boy who was shot. As they meander through their lives, all have been irrevocably changed by the desertion of Lucy, and sadly forfeit opportunities for happiness in their own lives.

Lucy finds her own redemption in a simple life. In a surprising twist at the end, she manages an extraordinary act of forgiveness.  With lyrical descriptions of his native Ireland, Trevor creates his own legend in The Story of Lucy Gault.

Have you read the book?