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Charming Billy Paperback – 7 Aug 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (7 Aug. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747545391
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747545392
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (157 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 736,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Charming Billy is a devastating account of the power of longing and lies, love's tenacity and resignations hold. Even at his funeral party, Billy Lynch's life remains up for debate. This soft-spoken, poetry lover's drinking was as legendary among his Queens', New York, family and friends as was his disappointment in love. But the latter, as his cousin Dennis knows, "was, after all, yet another sweet romance to preserve." After World War II, both young men had spent one sun-swept week on Long Island, renovating a house and falling in with two Irish sisters--nannies to a wealthy family--"marvelling, marvelling still, that this Eden was here, at the other end of the same island on which they had spent their lives." By the end of their idyll, Billy and Eva were engaged, though she was set to return to County Wicklow. Determined to earn enough money to bring her, her family, and if necessary her entire village back to the US, Billy took two jobs, one of which would indenture him for years. But despite the money he sent, Eva never returned, and then was suddenly dead of pneumonia. The true tragedy is that she had simply kept her fare and married someone else--a secret Dennis keeps for the next 30 years as he watches Billy fall into a loveless marriage and the self-administered anaesthesia of alcohol. Alice McDermott's quiet, striking novel is a study of the lies that bind and the weight of familial wishes. She seems far less interested in the shock of revelation than in her characters' power to live through personal disaster. As Dennis's daughter pieces together Billy's real history, she also learns of the accommodations her own family had long made--and discovers that good intentions can be as destructive as the truth they mean to hide.


‘A gentle, poignant and ultimately charming read’ -- Sunday Times

‘A masterpiece…All her characters are achingly alive’ -- Sunday Times

‘A perfect portrayal of rich characters’ -- Irish Independent

‘As powerful as watching a film. We are there with the characters, we know and understand them intimately’ -- Independent on Sunday

‘Written with a lucidity that can make you nostalgic for what you have never experienced’ -- TLS

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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 Nov. 1998
Format: Hardcover
McDermott writes with a different style in Charming Billy, so that at times I found it difficult to follow who is narrating the story and how that person got their perspective. It is a good perspective, and the entire story is pleasantly understated. It lacks high drama, as most of our lives actually do, and thus portrays an unfortunate love story (or more accurately the results of an unfortunate love) in a natural,low-key, even contemplative manner. It is the result of unwisely loving -- in this case the anti-hero Billy loves too much or too blindly or too optimistically -- that is explained in the novel. Billy's life story is not given in detail, but the effect of his drinking and despair as it touches other's lives is what we witness through the tale. There is sadness here, as well as hope; humor and pain; honesty, deceit, compassion, regret ... oh, it is very much like real life. I found it difficult to put down, because the book itself seemed to beckon me right back into its pages (I finally gave up and just read it through to the end). Something about it is compelling, although the plot itself is so tame that I could not explain the irresistability of the story. The only problem I found was that the author tends to be repetitive, citing information and then coming up with a scene about it several pages later. Otherwise, it is worth the read merely to enjoy the unusual narrative style and how the story of a life and the lives affected by it evolves. For all his sorrows and his drinking, you may come away, as I did, charmed by the anti-hero in Charming Billy.
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By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 12 May 2014
Format: Paperback
This book is the equivalent of sitting among a group of not very interesting people, hearing them tell rather mundane anecdotes about people they've known who have done very little in their lives. The narrator (whose sex we only learn halfway through the book, and whose name we only learn in the final pages) tells the story of her Uncle Billy, largely recording anecdotes told at Billy's funeral. Billy was a charming Irish-American, a devout Catholic who liked Yeats's poems, but who lacked the drive to ever really make that much of himself. As a young man, he fell wildly in love with Eva, a pretty Irish girl visiting family in the USA for the summer (how did she afford the fare if she was from a poor family?), and when Eva went back to Ireland he told her he would send her money so that she could come back and marry him. However, after a while Eva's letters mysteriously stopped, and soon after Dennis (the narrator's father) told Billy that Eva had died of pneumonia. Billy never recovered, and though he married the sensible and kindly Maeve some years later, became an alcoholic of the most self-destructive kind, determined to drink himself into oblivion. He mourned Eva for years - until a visit to Ireland made him realize that Dennis's account had more than a little fiction about it (this is not a spoiler; we learn it in the first chapter). But by that time Billy was literally unable to give up the booze.

And that, bar a few descriptions of the Irish Catholic community on Long Island, is about it.
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By A Customer on 21 Dec. 2002
Format: Paperback
On the afternoon of Billy Lynch's funeral, his family and friends gather at a New York restaurant to discuss this charismatic man whom "everyone loved" and who, apparently, "died of drink." Questions abound: Why would Billy drink himself to death? How unhappy was he in his marriage to the plain-but-faithful Maeve? And what of Eva, his first love? If Billy had managed to have a future with Eva, would his life have taken a different turn? Was Billy's pathetic outcome just a matter of fate?
The narrator of Charming Billy is a cousin-once-removed of the protagonist, the daughter of Billy's best friend, Dennis, and probably the author's alter ego. Although intelligent and perceptive, the narrator is also rather critical of the pride, prejudice, sexism, racism, faith and clannish behavior she observes in her elders.
Charming Billy is a wonderful story of second and third-generation Irish-Americans, most of whom are blood relatives and live and love and laugh and drink and work for Consolidated Edison in the Queens borough of New York City. In the hands of a lesser author, a book such as Charming Billy might be one in which we would soon lose interest, but McDermott, a wonderful writer, brings Billy to life as well as illuminating the lives of this tightly-knit Irish-American community.
The opening scene, in a restaurant following Billy's funeral, is a brilliant social satire reminiscent of James T. Farrell's stories about Irish-Americans in Chicago, Can All This Grandeur Perish, written in 1937. McDermott, however, is less scathing, more sentimental and humorous, than was Farrell.
The characters in Charming Billy are warmly and well-drawn. They all have names like Dennis and Danny and Kevin and Rosemary and Bridie and Maeve.
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