March 04, 1991 12:00 PM

by Maeve Binchy

Let’s cut to the chase: Read this book. It breaks no ground, throws no light on the human condition, introduces no unforgettable characters, but it is sweet-souled, gently funny and frequently touching.

It centers on Benny Hogan, a big, sunny broth of a girl whose overprotective father runs a men’s haberdashery shop in Knockglen, a tiny town near Dublin. Benny’s best friend since childhood is the dark-haired pixie Eve Malone, a trigger-tempered orphan who has been brought up in the village convent under the watchful eye of the Mother Superior, Mother Francis.

The two girls are inseparable, puzzling out the facts of life together, gorging on toffees, defending each other against the slights of the more snide members of the town. Lite becomes more complex when the two leave Knockglen for University College in Dublin. There Benny and Eve fall in with the beautiful, poised, mysterious Nan Mahon who “would take everything she saw. [Who] was like a child crawling toward a shining object.” ‘ Benny falls in love with rugby star and ladies’ man Jack Foley.

While Binchy is exploring the familiar territory of young women coming of age and coming to terms, she avoids clichés and creates some terrific characters.

Eve and Benny are captivating enough—Eve, who’s incapable of not speaking her mind, and always-ready-with-a-joke Benny, trying gamely to get her heart off her sleeve. But there is also Mother Francis, who gives lie to the fearsome image of parochial school heads; the sleazy Sean Walsh, who tries to work his way into Benny’s affections; Peggy Pine, owner of a “smart” dress shop; and crazy Mr. Flood, who insists he sees nuns in the trees. It’s not quite Winesburg, Ohio, but it’s pretty wonderful. (Delacorte, $19.95)

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