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Scarlet Feather    by Maeve Binchy order for
Scarlet Feather
by Maeve Binchy
Order:  USA  Can
McArthur, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Softcover, Audio

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather went to catering college together and share the dream of building the best catering business in Dublin. Their partners are supportive but are also pursuing their own visions. Cathy's husband Neil Mitchell is a lawyer obsessed with solving the world's problems on a grand scale, taking legal action for refugees and helping the homeless, and Tom's beautiful partner Marcella plans to be a successful model.

There are various sub-plots mostly to do with Cathy's in-laws - the difficult relationship with her snobbish mother-in-law (Cathy's mother was the mother-in-law's cleaning lady and still defers to her); the lazy and unscrupulous brother-in-law who causes the partners great anguish; and Neil's nine year old twin cousins who are abandoned by their parents and thrown on the not so tender mercies of his. Tom has a few problems with his own family, to add variety.

The story's premise is intriguing, the characters appealing, and the challenges faced by the partners interesting, but the tale is drawn out a little too much and falls flat in the middle. There's not a whole lot of passion to it, aside from the occasional outburst from Cathy. Most of the characters seem to be unreasonably reasonable. Even the terrible twins quickly turn into model citizens under the wholesome influence of Cathy's working class parents.

Binchy does address some interesting issues through the story. The main one, of course, is the impact of obsessions on relationships. These characters certainly seem to have trouble in managing them, unless they are shared, which I found a rather depressing conclusion. The more interesting issue for me was that of children from dysfunctional homes. Again, it is not addressed in any real depth, but the examples in the story make the point that the social services' bias towards returning kids to their birth parents is not always a good choice.

Overall this novel will be enjoyed by Binchy fans, but is by no means her best. There is not much depth to it and you may want to skim through the middle, but Scarlet Feather still provides a pleasant pastime to while away an autumn afternoon.

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