I read this for a TBR challenge in my online book club, The Reading Cove. As a long time reader of Maeve Binchy's, I hadn't realized LIGHT A PENNY CANDLE was her debut novel, the one that started it all.
I enjoyed the first third of the story, getting to know Elizabeth White and her parents, Aisling O'Connor and her family. The two girls become fast friends in 1940s Europe when 10-year-old Elizabeth is refugeed to Ireland during WW2.
Although this is classic Binchy - very well-written, with strong characterizations, and rich settings - the friendship thread wasn't as strong for me in this story. I really didn't feel too strong a bond between Elizabeth & Aisling once Elizabeth returned to England. And the evolution of their friendship is riddled with typical clichés.
What saves this lengthy tome for me is the thing I love most about Maeve Binchy's writing - her ability to make you feel you know the characters. You become invested in their lives and care about what happens to them. I was moved by how Aisling's mum, Eileen, was so welcoming of Elizabeth, treating her as her own, making what was no doubt a frightening experience for a 10 y/o much more pleasant.
Things got rather strange and out of character in the end, and I didn't enjoy the last third of the book as much. Overall, I didn't feel this book had a wide enough scope for the characters to support its 600 pages, so it definitely felt overlong. I give this one (B-).
From Library Journal:
The chaos of World War II London sends preteen Elizabeth White to the safety of Ireland and into the lives of the much larger and emotional O'Connor family. The enduring friendship she finds with her counterpart, Aisling, forms the framework of this novel, offering clear contrasts between the two families and countries. The early chapters of Binchy's 1982 debut novel are engagingly humorous, filled with solid characterizations of these two very different but compatible adolescents. The girls sustain their friendship and distinct personalities through regular letters, but unfortunately they must grow up and the novel may strain under the conventionality of the genre and some inconsistency, perhaps due to Binchy's inexperience as an author at the time she wrote the original story. Her cousin Kate Binchy reads the book well, capturing the innocence, yearning, and growth of the girls. Recommended for larger fiction collections.
-Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
As a child, Elizabeth White was sent from her war-torn London home to a safer life in the small Irish town of Kilgarret. It was there, in the crowded, chaotic O'Connor household, that she met Aisling--who would become her very best friend, sharing her pet kitten and secretly teaching her the intricacies of Catholicism. Aisling's boldness brought Elizabeth out of her proper shell; later, her support carried Elizabeth through the painful end her parents' chilly marriage. In return, Elizabeth's friendship helped Aisling endure her own unsatisfying marriage to a raging alcoholic. Through the years, they always believed they could overcome any conflict, conquer any hardship. They believed they could survive anaything, as long as they had each other. Now they're about to find out if they were right...