Irish writer Maeve Binchy died just a few weeks after finishing her 17th novel. Like her earlier books, “A Week in Winter” is set in Ireland, features an ensemble cast and is written with warmth and optimism. Here’s how it begins:
Everyone had their own job to do on the Ryans’ farm in Stoneybridge. The boys helped their father in the fields, mending fences, bringing the cows back to be milked, digging drills of potatoes; Mary fed the calves, Kathleen baked the bread, and Geraldine did the hens.
Not that they ever called her Geraldine, she was Chicky as far back as anyone could remember. A serious little girl pouring out meal for the baby chickens or collecting the fresh eggs each day, always saying, “chuck, chuck, chuck,” soothingly into the feathers as she worked. Chicky had names for all the hens, and no one could tell her when one had been taken to provide a Sunday lunch They always pretended it was a shop chicken, but Chicky always knew.
Stoneybridge was a paradise for children during the summer, but summer in the West of Ireland was short, and most of the time it was wet and wild and lonely on the Atlantic coast. Still, there were caves to explore, cliffs to climb, birds’ nests to discover, and wild sheep with great curly horns to investigate. And then there was Stone House. Chicky loved to play in its huge overgrown garden. Sometimes the Miss Sheedys, three sisters who owned the house and were ancient, let her play at dressing up in their old clothes.