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Charming Billy [Paperback]

Alice McDermott
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (157 customer reviews)
RRP: 12.99
Price: 11.37 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

7 Aug 2000
The late Billy Lynch's family and friends gather at a small bar and grill in the Bronx to remember better times. His widow, Maeve, is there and everyone admires the way she is holding up, just as they always admired the way she cared for Billy after the alcohol had ruined him. But one cannot think of Billy without saying at some point, 'There was that girl'. On Long Island one summer years ago, Billy fell in love with a beautiful Irish girl working for a wealthy Park Avenue family. Billy wanted to marry Eva, but then she went back to Ireland. And then Billy's cousin Dennis had to break the terrible news: Eva had died of pneumonia. Billy never got over it. Anybody who knew him would tell you so. Billy began courting Maeve not long after, but for the rest of their lives, he, she and Dennis shared a hidden, twisted grief.

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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: 12.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (157 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 822,130 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual narrative style; understated love story 30 Nov 1998
By A Customer
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Warm and Wise 21 Dec 2002
By A Customer
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Deepens upon reflection 29 Jun 1999
By A Customer
In April 1984, 47 members of the Lynch Family gather to bury their relative Billy, who died, arguably, either of alcoholism or his own romantic nature. It is a story about an extended Irish family and how the intricate webs of faith and human weakness moves lives. The book raises the question whether love is the shaper of human destiny, or whether "With so many other forces at work in the world, brutal, sly, deceiving, unstoppable forces, what could be more foolish than staking your life on an ephemeral feeling, no more than an idea, really, a fancy, the culmination of which is a clumsy bit of nakedness, a few minutes of animal grunting and bumping, a momentary obliteration of thought, of conscience? " Another theme seems to be an unflinching and unromantic look at what it is to be "one of the many million, just one more". All the characters fight against it, in their unwillingness to look the littleness of their lives in the eye, in their need to glorify Billy. No one character struggles with total success. Characters come into focus slowly. The first Rosemary to be introduced is "another cousin, yet another Rosemary." An intriguing phrase when the reader has not yet met any Rosemarys. Daniel Lynch, one of the largest characters in the book-- in the number of lives he touched, and in his legend after his death--is but one of several Daniel Lynches. Billy returns to Ireland and sees everyone he knows' face repeated over and over again. Even the narrator is anonymous and vague; the book is first person, and yet the narrator, Glory, isn't named until the last ten pages, and her identity is held simply as her father's child for most of the book. McDermott constantly challenges the reader with the point of view and with the telling and retelling of the same events. It is skillfully written, deepens upon reflection, and despite its challenges, not difficult going. A deserving book that lingers after finishing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring Billy
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... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kate Hopkins
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, bittersweet book
I enjoyed Charming Billy because it is sweet and nostalgic. It is a sensitive book in which feelings play the major part. Read more
Published on 17 July 2008 by reader 451
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming Billy - an all time favourite
I truly loved this book and I think it will always be special to me. First time I tried it I could not get into it at all but I persevered and am so glad that I did. Read more
Published on 31 July 2006 by KiwiGirl
3.0 out of 5 stars NOT SO CHARMING BILLY...
I am amazed that this book won the National Book Award in 1998. While the author's prose is lush and evocative of times gone by and captures the flavor of lower middle class life... Read more
Published on 19 Jan 2003 by Lawyeraau
3.0 out of 5 stars NOT SO CHARMING BILLY...
I am amazed that this book won the National Book Award in 1998. While the author's prose is lush and evocative of times gone by and captures the flavor of lower middle class life... Read more
Published on 1 Jan 2003 by Lawyeraau
2.0 out of 5 stars NOT SO CHARMING BILLY...
I am amazed that this book won the National Book Award in 1998. While the author's prose is lush and evocative of times gone by and captures the flavor of lower middle class life... Read more
Published on 5 Nov 2002 by Lawyeraau
3.0 out of 5 stars A character study through the eyes of a burdened family
Alice McDermott crafts a thoughtful eulogy to the sad earthly existence of the nararrator's Uncle Billy, a sweet, mannered alcoholic resigned to life without true love. Read more
Published on 5 Sep 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Artistry in language and story telling
Alice McDermott takes the reader on a guided tour of a man's life through the eyes of his family and friends. Read more
Published on 2 Sep 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars Well-crafted, but empty
The emptiness of the characters spills over into the essence of the book. And I don't think this is intentional. Read more
Published on 28 Aug 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars Lovely final chapter....
McDermott clearly has a way with the language, and much of her writing is a pleasure to read. The final chapter, in which the father and daughter go to the beach house, is... Read more
Published on 27 Aug 1999
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