Review copy provided by publisher
Pan Macmillan, 21 August 2012
Synopsis- Ruby and Cat’s friendship was forged on an English dockside over sixty years ago when, both fearful, they boarded a ship bound for Australia. It was a friendship that was supposed to last a lifetime but when news of Cat’s death reaches Ruby back in London, it comes after a painful estrangement.
Declan has also drifted away from Cat, but he is forced back to his aunt’s lavender farm, Benson’s Reach, when he learns that he and Ruby are co-beneficiaries.
As these two very different people come together in Margaret River they must learn to trust each other and to deal with the staff and guests. Can the legacy of Benson’s Reach triumph over the hurt of the past? Or is Cat’s duty-laden legacy simply too much for Ruby and Declan to keep alive?
Review- Written in the style of a family drama, though the characters are unrelated but their paths all cross at one central point- Benson’s Reach in the Margaret River, Western Australia. Benson’s Reach is a rundown property that produces lavender products and rent out cottages to tourists. Declan and Ruby have inherited co-partnership of the lavender farm and lodging at Benson’s Reach following the death of the owner, Catherine.
Ruby is about 70 years old and has a complex history and friendship with Catherine, after her death she leaves London and returns to the place that stores many hurtful memories.
Declan, Catherine’s nephew is middle aged- awkward, nervous and indecisive. He’s a little lost by the bequest and so jumps at the opportunity for his old friend, Alice to join him at the farm to provide him with some strength to cope with the circumstances. Alice, recently released from prison is ashamed of her past and trying to overcome the pain she caused her family.
Lesley is the first tourist to arrive at Benson’s Reach while it’s new owners are finding their feet. She leaves behind her home in Perth, including her newly retired husband who she feels stifled by. Lesley finds herself attracted to Declan, ten years her junior. There’s also young Todd who’s 15 and has been abandoned by his mum and trying to find his place at Benson’s Reach though his insecurities interfere with trying to make it a home.
In the Company of Strangers examines the lives of many different characters that come from various walks of life. At times I struggled to maintain an interest in the story as it was difficult to align myself with any one character. I didn’t particularly like Lesley and I didn’t really understand Declan. I was intrigued by Ruby, but felt she wasn’t developed into an intricate character until the end of the story. I think I may have struggled with the characters because they are mainly in the 40’s-70’s which made it difficult to relate to.
What I did love about Byrski’s narrative is the sense of community she creates and the delightful holiday spot of Margaret River which I have visited in recent times and absolutely loved. I think Byrski also portrayed Ruby’s early life experience as a child migrant from England in a sensitive manner. I actually got the impression from the synopsis that this would form more of the plot- Ruby and Catherine’s early experience and the lead up to the deterioration of their friendship.
In the Company of Strangers was a slow read but a fascinating look at older adults- their reflections on the past and adjustments to life changes. A character- driven story which lacked the direction and suspense to really enthrall me.
“It was okay”
In the Company of Strangers can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers
About the author: Liz Byrski is a writer and broadcaster with more than 40 years experience in the British and Australian media. She is the author of eleven non-fiction books and five novels, and her work has been published in national and international newspapers and magazines.
In the nineties Liz was a broadcaster and executive producer with ABC Radio in Perth and later an advisor to a minister in the Western Australian State Government; she now lectures in Professional and Creative Writing at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, and has PhD in writing with a focus on feminist popular fiction.
Liz was born in London and spent most of her childhood in Sussex. As an only child she spent a lot of time alone, much of it buried in books. She began her working life as a secretary and later moved into journalism working as a reporter on a local newspaper until she took up freelance writing when her children were born. Before moving to Western Australia she also worked as an appeals organiser for Oxfam.
After moving to Perth with her family in 1981 she once again established a freelance career writing for Australian publications including The Australian, Homes and Living, Cosmopolitan and Weekend News.
Liz lives between Perth and Fremantle and in addition to enjoying the company of family and friends, she spends most of her time reading, writing and walking. She has two adult sons and twin grandsons.
This book was read as part of the AWW2012 challenge: