The Glass Lake Themes
by Maeve Binchy

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The Glass Lake Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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Binchy orchestrates themes much the way a composer orchestrates a symphony. Within the first few pages of the novel, she tells the reader that Lough Glass translates as "the green lake," but people call it "the glass lake" because there are times when it resembles a mirror. Town folklore claims that those who look into the lake at sunset on St. Agnes' Eve will see the future. Realists claim that the lake reveals nothing "except reflections of themselves and each other."

This allusion to John Keats's poem "The Eve of St. Agnes" (1819) sets up the theme of ideal romance that the novel explores. Layered within and around the social concerns, this theme is examined in the lives of several characters. Each character creates a variation or repetition of the general theme.

Helen McMahon abandons a comfortable but loveless marriage to pursue a man who discarded her thirteen years earlier for the material comforts offered by marriage to a rich woman. As the passion of this romance fades, Helen is left with the guilt of abandoning a loving husband and two children. Eventually she finds a means other than marriage to define herself. Yet in a separate plot strand, Helen's London landlady, Ivy Brown, contracts a second marriage with the man she has always longed for, and she finds real happiness.

Binchy's explorations of romantic love undercut the notion that there is a single ideal. Kit rejects a loveless but safe relationship with Philip O'Brien. She finally commits to an intimate relationship with Stevie Sullivan, a hometown boy with a philandering reputation that mirrors Louis Gray's. Yet at the novel's end, the reader is led to believe that Kit's fate will not mirror her mother's. Kit initiates contact with Stevie to distract him from the beautiful Anna Kelly, the girl her brother Emmet fancies. The poetic Emmet turns out to be a more suitable match for Anna than the womanizing Stevie. The romantic choices of Emmet and Kit mirror the failed marriage of their parents, but with important differences. Anna longs for the sexually suave Stevie, but settles for the more companionable Emmet. Kit rejects the safety and comfort Philip O'Brien offers, and finds a depth and loyalty in Stevie that belie his reputation. Simultaneously, Kit's relationship with her mother evolves from daughterly love into despicable hate, and then into a mature female friendship.

Louis Gray's marriage to the pregnant Mary Paula O'Connor, daughter of a major hotel tycoon, repeats two motifs that have characterized Gray's previous behavior. That this is Gray's third philandering is perhaps Binchy's way of...

(The entire section is 657 words.)