As I read Silver Wedding, I kept remembering Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and his discussion of the challenges of being humble: “I cannot boast of much Success in acquiring the Reality of this Virtue [humility]; but I had a good deal with regard to the Appearance of it.” In many ways, Silver Wedding is also about keeping up a public facade; many of the characters strive to uphold appearances at all costs and they all pay the price.
Deirdre and Desmond Doyle have been married for 25 years, and to commemorate this event, their eldest daughter Anna is planning a gala celebration. But beneath the peaceful exterior of this family – an exterior that is strenuously maintained – secrets seethe. Anna, for example, is living with a married man, a beautiful but feckless actor. Then there’s the fact that Brendan, the second child, moved back to Desmond’s ancestral farm in Mayo, Ireland – a big step down in his mother’s eyes from the Doyles’ residence in the North London suburbs. It’s an embarrassment she insists on glossing over or lying about when mentioned by outsiders. Helen, the youngest child and would-be nun, is hiding an even more grievous secret, and her bumbling attempts to help everyone she meets create non-stop chaos. Everybody else, from the priest who married the Doyles to the maid of honor and best man, is hiding something, and piece by piece, Binchy brings all the players together for the silver wedding celebration.
The story is told from eight different points of view, each corresponding to a chapter, which makes for a rather fragmented story. Just as you get into a character and want to find out more about him or her, another chapter begins and you switch points of view. You do get more variety and you find out exactly what happens with each person, but on the other hand, depth is sacrificed. Due to Binchy’s skill, however, the characters are still well fleshed-out and none of them is a caricature, even Deirdre, who seems completely obsessed with making her family appear better than they really are. In a way, Silver Wedding is also an interesting exploration of the subjective nature of perception and reality: very often we’ll see the assumptions of one character about another become completely overturned when we turn to the next chapter.
The book doesn’t really have a resolution in the traditional sense of the word. Most of the secrets remain unrevealed and unresolved, and this was both a plus and a minus. On one hand, Binchy avoided a trite and obvious route by leaving everything open to possibilities. On the other hand, the book left me hanging. But we do see most of the characters change and develop in the course of the story. Although there were no happily-ever-after guarantees, some of the outcomes were particularly satisfactory, especially those involving Desmond and Anna. In that way, the book perhaps mirrored real life: some things changed for the better, but much still stayed the same.
If you like a quiet book about family secrets and the dynamics of relationships, you’ll probably enjoy this book. It captures the flavor of family dysfunction quite well without being cloying, and it’s a fast, intelligent, enjoyable read.