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The Glass Lake    by Maeve Binchy order for
Glass Lake
by Maeve Binchy
Order:  USA  Can
Dell, 1998 (1996)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

To read a book by Maeve Binchy is to give yourself a special treat, like a box of good chocolates. You can always count on being entertained and moved by the lives of the Irish folks who populate these novels. Binchy is a master at creating interesting and very real people, warts and all. Usually the stories are told from the viewpoints of several of the key characters whose lives are intertwined, and this gives them a nice multi-dimensional feeling.

The Glass Lake is set in Lough Glass, a beautiful small lakeside town several hours from Dublin, where everyone knows each other and all about each other's lives. The book is centered around the McMahon family - the father Martin, the local pharmacist, his wife Helena and their children Kit and Emmett. Also key are the doctor's family - the father Peter and his wife plus daughters Clio (who is Kit's best friend) and her younger sister Anna. There are many other well-drawn and memorable characters, especially the hermit nun Sister Madelyn, and many interesting small town dramas and sub-plots.

Unfortunately all is not well in Lough Glass, especially for Helena McMahon who has taken refuge in a safe, but not very loving, marriage to Martin who adores her, after her real love Louis Gray deserted her. Helena shuns much of the local activity and walks for hours by herself along the shores of Lough Glass. One night she disappears, and when the McMahon boat is found over-turned in the lake, she is presumed drowned. But is she really dead?

One learns early on that she has instead run away to London and set up household there with her old love Louis Gray. Helena, who becomes Lena Gray in London, left a note for Martin explaining her plans. However 12-year old Kit (in one of those well-intentioned but horribly wrong moves) burns the note without showing it to anyone or even reading it herself, fearing it to be a suicide note which would deny her mother burial in sanctified ground.

From then on the book jumps back and forth from London to Lough Glass as the years pass. Lena surprises herself and Louis by taking a job at a run-down employment agency and turning it into a thriving business. She is grief-stricken when she realizes that her family thinks her dead, but decides it is best to leave the situation that way. However, she is unable to resist contacting Kit in the guise of one of her mother's old school friends, and they end up having a wonderful correspondence. Then Kit and some friends visit London as a high school graduation present, Kit goes to Lena's address to surprise her and discovers her own mother.

This is a nicely written illustration of how the choices people make will determine the rest of their lives. Lena has followed her heart to be with Louis but lost her children in the process. Unfortunately Louis turns out to be somewhat of a scoundrel and Lena's life is not the happy one of which she had dreamed. One of the always fascinating, and often heart-warming, aspects of a Binchy book is how one person's actions can affect so many others. As she builds up the employment agency Lena turns around the lives of many of its employees in positive ways. She also becomes a dear friend to her landlady Ivy and helps her cope with life.

Many readers may already be familiar with Binchy's later best-sellers, Tara Road and Scarlet Feather. The Glass Lake is one of her earlier books and not quite as good as the later ones, since it is longer than in needs to be. However, the author is already skillfully using her technique of multiple tales of interacting lives to good effect, and the book is definitely worth the read.

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