Light a Penny Candle
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Light a Penny Candle (1982) is Maeve Binchy's first novel, which follows two girls growing up during and in the aftermath of World War II.
London was a very dangerous place to live during World War II, and many children were evacuated to Ireland or the United States. Only child Elizabeth White is sent to live with her mother's childhood friend and her large and bustling family, the O'Connors, in Ireland. Although the mothers were childhood friends, their relationship has become one-sided with Elizabeth's mother, Violet, rarely corresponding and Aisling's mother, Eileen, remembering their closeness with detailed letters. Violet believes even though Ireland is not as refined as her London, it is a safe place for her daughter.
Elizabeth quickly becomes fast friends with Aisling, who is the same age. The story follows these two girls, along with the whole O'Connor family, as they grow into teenagers and young women. Aisling is outgoing and bold, while Elizabeth is quiet with all the manners of a well-bred child. Elizabeth is shown a caring, loving family and begins to feel part of a real family, as opposed to the cold environment of her parents' house. After the war ends, Elizabeth goes back to London, leaving behind a loving family and returns to the quietness of her real family. The two girls have formed a bond that remains, however, for years after the war is over. They remain in close contact through letters, supporting each other through their marriages. Their lives remain intertwined, each facing her own relationships, successes, and failures.
- Elizabeth White – A shy English girl sent to live in Ireland during World War II to escape the dangers of the bombings in London. She lives there for five years, becoming confident and happy in the care of the O'Connor family.
- Aisling O'Connor – A confident, boisterous girl who takes the shy Elizabeth under her wing. In turn, Aisling becomes more sensitive under Elizabeth's influence.
- Johnny Stone – A charming, handsome but selfish man whom Elizabeth, and later Aisling, fall in love with.
- Henry Mason – Elizabeth's husband; a kindly man whom she unexpectedly falls for after realising Johnny will never commit to her.
- Tony Murray – Aisling's husband, whose alcoholism eventually ruins their marriage.
- Eileen and Sean O'Connor – The kindly parents of Aisling, who treat Elizabeth like their own daughter.
- Violet White – Elizabeth's mother. She and Eileen were childhood friends, but over the years she has become snobbish and distant. Her marriage collapses after the war, and she is later revealed to be suffering from schizophrenia.
- George White – Elizabeth's father; a quiet, emotionally distant, and timid man who fails to recognise the problems in his marriage.
- Harry Elton – Violet's second husband, whom Elizabeth initially resents, but eventually grows fond of.
- Sean O'Connor Junior – Aisling's eldest brother, who is rejected by his father when he decides to join the British army. He is later killed in a bombing.
- Stefan Worksy – An elderly Polish antique shop owner who gives Elizabeth her first job, becoming something of a mentor to her.