Popular Irish novelist, Maeve Binchy, author of eleven additional novels, including Circle of Friends (1990) and one book of nonfiction, herein offers her readers another thickly plotted tale. Scarlet Feather, however, suffers from comparison to Binchy’s previous work, as its sometimes-tedious story lacks the substance and form of her earlier novels.
The book’s title derives from a Dublin catering company co-owned by Tom Feather and Cathy Scarlet. Tom lives with Marcella, an aspiring model, and Cathy is married to Neil, an idealistic attorney who hopes to change the world. Both couples remain content until their career commitments cause them to make choices that simultaneously distance the partners from each other and throw Tom and Cathy together.
Marcella abandons Tom to pursue a modeling career that ends in angst and a plea from Marcella for Tom to take her back, and Neil’s involvement with his causes grows so great that he neglects his wife. Independently, Tom and Cathy see that they will never again be able to truly communicate with their significant others, so they abandon those relationships and gravitate toward each other.
One of the book’s several subplots focuses on twin children, a girl and a boy, Cathy’s relatives by marriage, who find the first real home of their lives with Cathy’s parents. When the twins, neglected by their own addicted and irresponsible family, come into Cathy’s life they act like hellions. But after Cathy and her parents show them love and teach them manners, they respond in kind.
The subtext of each of Scarlet Feather’s interwoven plots is that in order to thrive people must be honest with themselves, just as they must strive to understand the needs and motives of others.