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Review: 'Maeve Binchy: The Biography' recollects Irish writer's wit but offers few insights

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‘Maeve Binchy: The Biography'

Author: Piers Dudgeon

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, 352 pages, $27.99

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By Mary Cadden
Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, 2:27 p.m.

“Maeve Binchy: The Biography” is a loving tribute to the popular Irish writer who died two years ago at the age of 72. And much like its subject, the book is at times smart, often entertaining and not without flaws.

Piers Dudgeon, who has written biographies of writers Barbara Taylor Bradford, J.M. Barrie and Daphne du Maurier, does a deft job juxtaposing the allegorical nature of Binchy's fiction to events in her life. Universal as well as personal themes including self-discovery (“Circle of Friends”), childlessness (“The Copper Beach”) and betrayal (“Tara Road”) take on a new level of meaning. To know Binchy's world, you must know her fiction.

There is no doubt Dudgeon is a fan of his subject, and therein lies the biography's problem.

His Binchy is more a personality than a real person, facing any and all obstacles with her characteristic wit. His sources seem to be admirers or people on the periphery of her life rather than intimates, giving the biography a sense of superficiality.

We are introduced to Binchy the Irish Catholic, the dutiful student, the brief atheist, the existentialist, the teacher, the traveler, the journalist, the playwright and the novelist. Her marriage to producer and children's book author Gordon Snell did not produce children, but did produce a robust working relationship where the couple wrote daily, side by side.

Binchy came of age in the 1960s and into her own professionally in the 1970s. The author's travels are just touched upon. Such moments seem ripe for further examination but are dropped.

At best, fans will find new insight to their favorite Binchy works.

Perhaps a future biographer will deliver a more complete reconstruction of her life story.

Mary Cadden is a staff writer for USA Today.

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