book cover of Scarlet Feather
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Scarlet Feather

(2000)
A novel by

 
 
The Barnes & Noble Review
Following the international success of Tara Road, Maeve Binchy offers Scarlet Feather, an enchanting and richly plotted new tale of family, friendship, honesty, and deception. This time out, the beloved author sets her story against the dynamic social and economic whirl of modern Ireland, tracing the interconnected destinies of an engaging cast of Dubliners over the course of a single unforgettable year. The novel opens with an uncharacteristically graceless series of character sketches designed to plunk readers squarely in medias res with as little fuss or literary artifice as possible. However, once these introductions have been made, Binchy quickly atones for this perfunctory exercise in stage-setting with a bravura demonstration of her vaunted storytelling skills.

Tom Feather and Cathy Scarlet have been the best of friends since they attended cooking school. If not for a simple twist of fate, they might once have become lovers. But now Cathy, from homely St. Jarlath's Crescent, is married to Neil, a human rights lawyer and scion of the upper-crust Mitchell family. If Neil's posh parents have never been able to forget (or forgive) the fact that Cathy's "poor" mother, Lizzie, once cleaned and scrubbed their family manse, Cathy, for her part, is proud of her working-class accent and fierce independence. Charming and handsome, Tom has turned his back on the family construction business to pursue the dream of opening his own catering shop. His longtime significant other, the equally stunning Marcella, steadfastly refuses to marry him for fear of jeopardizing her nascent modeling career.

The catalyst that upsets the delicate balance between these two "happy" couples, their extended families at home and abroad, and an assortment of clients, pets, petty criminals, and racetrack touts is the discovery late one New Year's Eve of a suitable location from which to launch Cathy and Tom's gourmet catering company, Scarlet Feather.

As the cherished idea of Scarlet Feather transforms itself into a true labor of love -- with special emphasis on labor -- tensions begin to grow between Neil and Cathy, Tom and Marcella. Each couple learns that maintaining a relationship with a work-obsessed, absentee mate becomes increasingly difficult when both partners are equally consumed by their toil. Factor in the unexpected desiderata of everyday life -- financial woes, "innocent" deceptions, and the odd family crisis (most comically, the adoption of a pair of precocious, semi-feral twins) -- and Tom and Cathy soon find that the price of success may be far greater than the cost of failure.

In Scarlet Feather, Maeve Binchy has once again delivered a broad, lighthearted entertainment that also compellingly addresses very real social issues -- from the bureaucracy of the foster care system to the erosion of age-old class distinctions to the rise of the new materialism attending Ireland's economic miracle. And, like the mouthwatering culinary creations concocted in Tom and Cathy's kitchen, Scarlet Feather is likely to whet your appetite for more delicious fiction from Binchy. (Greg Marrs)


Genre: General Fiction

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