I didn’t mean to. I mean, I’d heard about their books and people told me I should check out their work and so I did. I put Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends and Paul Murray’s An Evening of Long Goodbyes on my to-be-read list and that was that. For years those books sat on the TBR list, and for years I passed them over in favor of something new or popular. Finally, I read broke down and read Binchy’s Circle of Friends and realized something deeply intriguing about how she told stories. Somehow she seemed to find the most compelling parts of ordinary people and make them interesting, bringing them to life on the page through painstaking detail. As a writer myself, I can only hope to learn and hone my skills of character development to this level. Binchy was a master (she passed in 2012). Before I knew it, an at-a-glance boring book had me hooked, and I found I actually cared about what happened to the characters despite a somewhat lackluster plot. I’d been masterfully drawn into their lives. Not because I had to see the outcome of a situation, but because I wanted to know how they were going to fix the things in their lives that were broken. Her book Evening Class had the same effect on me and made me love her work even more. The story itself was rather uneventful, but the characters, even though ordinary, were rich and fascinating. They were the story.
Stories are about characters.
Another wonderful contemporary Irish writer who has mastered characterization in stories about ordinary people is Paul Murray. Much like Binchy, his book An Evening of Long Goodbyes sat on my TBR list for years before I finally read it. I found myself surprised at how similar his style was to Binchy’s, and I literally asked myself if this was, perhaps, the habit of Irish writers. If so, it’s definitely a style I like.
I am now reading Murray’s Skippy Dies and again I find myself suddenly wrapped up in characters and their ordinary, but supremely interesting lives quite by accident. See, these are the books you start and you may groan during the first few pages because they seem tedious and detail laden. They may not even have grandiose plots with eye-opening revelations. In some cases, the plots may fall flat. But the characters – ah! Next thing you know, you’re fifty pages in and thinking to yourself, “This is really good. I wonder what this character is going to do about [insert mundane thing here].” And that’s what reading and finding new favorite authors is all about, isn’t it? Finding characters we identify with and love, and storytellers who bring those characters to life for us. Binchy and Murray have definitely done that for me. While I loathe to put either of them on a pedestal as my favorite author, they are in the top twenty five authors whose work has impacted me as both a reader and writer in the past fifteen years.
Which writers have you fallen in love with and why? Which authors have impacted you?