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Literature / Light A Penny Candle

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Amazon cover of the novel

Light A Penny Candle is the debut novel of Maeve Binchy, published in 1982. The novel follows Elizabeth White and Aisling O'Connor over a period of 20 years, as their friendship grows and changes.

The novel begins in 1940, when Elizabeth is evacuated to Ireland during World War II.She is sent to live in Kilgarret with the O'Connors, and quickly befriends Aisling. She gradually comes out of her shell and becomes more confident, and she returns to England after the war as an independent young woman. However she finds that things aren't as she left them, and although she keeps in touch with Aisling, their friendship will be tested by the years to come.

At over 800 pages long, this is one of Binchy's longest novels, with many side characters, making it very difficult to summarise. It's also comparatively darker than Binchy's usual fare.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Apron Matron: Eileen is a strict no-nonsense mother who runs a tight ship and doesn't tolerate any misbehaviour from her children. She's also caring and loving towards all of them, and treats Elizabeth as one of her own children.
  • Bridezilla: Implied with Maureen, as she asks Aisling and her mother to lose weight for her wedding
  • Coming-of-Age Story: For Elizabeth and Aisling
  • Fiery Redhead: Aisling's hair is described as "carroty"
  • Grew a Spine: Elizabeth begins the novel as a shy introvert that can't stand up for herself, but she becomes strong enough to talk openly with her parents about their divorce, and even starts an art appreciation class by herself
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Maureen's mother-in-law, Mrs Daly is dismissive of everything Maureen does, and is very possessive of her grandchildren. Subverted with Mrs Murray, who appears like this at first, but turns out to be a lonely old woman.
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  • The Alcoholic: Tony gets drunk on his wedding night, and passes out before the marriage can be consumated. He's also frequently drunk, and when Aisling finally confronts him about it, he hits her in a violent rage. He ends up dying in a nursing home from liver failure
  • Your Cheating Heart: Johnny continues to have other lovers, even while he's dating Elizabeth. Later Aisling calls him out on this, but he refuses to change

Example of: