Heart and Soul is an intricately woven story containing many characters but centered on Clara Casey, a cardiologist living in Ireland. Although she doesn’t want to, she accepts a post at St. Brigid’s Hospital for a one-year stint as the head of their brand-new heart clinic.
In order to do her job well, she has to face Frank, the somewhat disgruntled penny-pinching hospital administrator who isn’t inclined to make Clara’s frustrating job any easier. Declan, the other doctor who comes to work at the clinic, is a sweet and considerate man with an overbearing mother he doesn’t know how to please. Fiona, a nurse at the clinic, has a secret in her past and a history of bad judgment; she doesn’t know how she can ever trust herself again. Ania, a Polish immigrant who has reached the end of her rope, luckily meets Clara, who gives her a spot at the clinic to work. But will Ania stick with her new life or return to her old one when a visitor from her past comes to Ireland?
These wonderfully drawn characters, along with many others, including Clara’s daughters, her ex-husband Alan, other employees at the clinic, and the slew of patients who become a part of the life of the clinic, are at the core of Heart and Soul. They make the novel worth reading as the reader becomes more and more attached to the people within the book. Heart and Soul binds these characters together through their individual stories.
While Heart and Soul is an enjoyable read, parts of it will be confusing for a first-time reader. Binchy revisits several secondary characters from previous novels, continuing and wrapping up their storylines in Heart and Soul. She doesn’t really try to fill the reader in on what they missed, so it seems as though she introduces a character out of nowhere, without elaboration. In reality, these characters have been developed and fleshed out previously. A new Binchy reader can pick up this book and enjoy it, but they will feel as if they are missing out on something, and it may detract from the pleasure they derive from this novel.
There are some slow parts in Heart and Soul, unsurprising given its length. Readers may find some characters, though all are well-written and charming, more sympathetic than others. It is the nature of a book such as this, with so many well-developed characters, that readers will hone in on certain characters and identify with them.
Heart and Soul is an enjoyable novel for fans of women’s fiction. The warmth emanating from many of the characters is palpable. Readers will be able to connect with them easily become enveloped in Binchy's Ireland.
Renee is a wonderfully strong heroine. She’s not the type of princess to wait around for Prince Charming; if she wants something done, she does it herself. Courageous and witty, her femininity is one of her greatest weapons, and her moments of vulnerability make her feel true to life. When she and Michael acknowledge their feelings for each other, it leads to a passionate relationship. Many of the secondary characters were actual personages, and there are so many that it can be tricky initially keeping straight who’s who and which lord or duke is friend or foe.
Tudor England and King Henry’s court has long been a popular theme in books and movies, as the success of Showtime’s recent miniseries The Tudors demonstrates. Now its grandeur is revisited in Maeve Binchy’s Heart and Soul in a wholly unique way. With its intelligent storytelling and great characters, Heart and Soul is an enjoyable and satisfying read. Historical fiction, historical romance, or historical paranormal, if you’re a fan of any of these, then this book is a must-read.