After working as a teacher and newspaper columnist, Ms. Binchy was in her 40s when she published her first novel, “Light a Penny Candle,” in 1982. The book earned a large advance that saved Ms. Binchy and her husband from losing their house — they were two months behind on their mortgage — and vaulted her into the ranks of one of the world’s best-selling authors.
She went on to write 16 novels and several collections of short stories, most of which were built around the sometimes-awkward problems of women and families coming to terms with a changing Ireland in the second half of the 20th century.
Although highbrow critics were not always kind to Ms. Binchy, her books sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and were translated into 37 languages. Her devoted following of readers included former first lady Barbara Bush, who once called Ms. Binchy her favorite author.
One of her novels, “Tara Road” (1998), was a selection of Oprah Winfrey’s popular television book club and was made into a film starring Andie MacDowell and Olivia Williams in 2005.
If Ms. Binchy wasn’t widely considered an innovative novelist, she was regarded as a spellbinding storyteller who had a gift for creating characters with universal appeal. Although some of her later fiction was set in modern times, many of Ms. Binchy’s epic-scale novels — several with recurring characters — were set in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Catholic Church and rural mores exerted a strong influence on Irish life.
In “Tara Road,” Ms. Binchy describes the fitful attempts of a mother, Nora Johnson, to advise her young daughters about the treacherous world of men.
“Not too much traveling,” she warned.
“Nora Johnson thought that men might regard travel as fast,” Ms. Binchy wrote. “Men preferred to marry safer, calmer women. Women who didn’t go gallivanting too much. It was only sensible to have advance information about men, Nora Johnson told her daughters. This way you could go armed into the struggle.”
In a 2002 review on the NPR program “Fresh Air,” critic and Georgetown University professor Maureen Corrigan described Ms. Binchy’s fiction as “an abiding, guilty pleasure.”
“Maybe it’s because Binchy so generously answers that enduring yearning for a good story,” Corrigan continued, “that I’ve critically diminished her for reducing me, a certified professor of literature, back to a rapt child.”
Six feet tall, rather stout and garrulous, Ms. Binchy spoke in a rapid Dublin brogue and delighted in meeting her readers. She noted that characters in her books often had repressed sexual urges, but — true to the Irish customs of her youth — she chose not to depict those longings in any explicit way.