A heartwarming story of second chances for the over 60s 18

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Book Cover In the Company of StrangersI had only one title remaining before I finished reading all Liz Byrski’s currently published books and like the last mango at the end of the season, I was tempted to freeze it so I could savour it at another time. But alas, the day came when I could no longer resist.

In the Company of Strangers by Liz Byrski was published in 2012 and as you might expect – because Liz is such a champion of “older people have lives” – the main protagonists are mature.

Ruby and Cat met on a cold English dockside as they waited for a boat taking them to live in Western Australia. They were told they were orphans whose parents lost their lives during the blitz. They held each other’s hand for courage and comfort. They kept holding hands for another 20 years.

Ruby went home to England in her 20s and the scars she bore from her childhood and later as an adult meant she had no desire to return to WA. However, the wonderful Cat has died and left Ruby a share of her holiday letting and lavender growing property in the Margaret River. Despite their earlier closeness, the two have been estranged for many years and Ruby questions whether she wants to make the trip, let alone take on the running of Benson’s Reach.

The other person who inherited a share of the property is Declan, Cat’s nephew. Although he kept promising to visit Cat and did occasionally, he had not seen her for many months before her death. Returning to Benson’s Reach as its part owner, is a responsibility he does not welcome; Declan does not handle stress well. Will this challenge make or break him? The only person who didn’t let Cat down at the end is Todd, a troubled teenager.

Then there is Alice, a friend of Declan’s and, in fact, his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. Alice is recently released from prison after serving her full sentence. She is not coping well and turns to the person she knows understands. Alice saved Declan so many times, he wants to offer her a safe haven until she can face the world, but more particularly her family who disowned her when she was imprisoned.

Lesley is initially a very difficult character to like – she seemingly has everything, a good husband who retired so they can live their dream of travelling, spending quality time with each other. She has a nice home, a family and grandchildren so when she chooses to “run away” to Benson’s Reach, for an indeterminate period of time, we feel like telling her to “get over it” whatever it is. When you look at what others are facing in their lives, her problems seem very first world.

In the hands of Liz Byrski, these characters come together naturally and easily is another great read from one of my favourite storytellers. It is a very character driven novel, with each having their good and bad points. Even the sainted, deceased Cat was not perfect.

Characters in Liz Byrski’s books have lives and much like our lives, there are some small, some large moments. They experience, love, deception, kindness; they make mistakes, they have histories, in other words, they are just people. For me, the strength of all Liz Byrski’s fiction is that the people are real and come to us with life experiences.

Whilst I believe we should never judge a book by its cover, the cover of In the Company of Strangers sets the story perfectly; the sun setting behind a magnificent tree, in a field of lavender is truly beautiful.

Historical fact – The back story to Ruby and Cat’s removal to WA is firmly grounded in fact. Government records show that more than 150,000 British children, many already in care, were sent to Commonwealth countries (mainly Australia and Canada) with the promise of a better life. They were aged from 3 to 14 years of age; the scheme started in the 1920’s and did not cease until 1967. Although some were orphans, others were given up by their parents; many of them ended up in institutions or were sent onto farms as unpaid labour, many suffered abuse. On 16 November 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology to the Forgotten Australians and child migrants read his apology here.

In the Company of Strangers by Liz Byrski is available to purchase from Dymocks


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Karen O'Brien-Hall

I've had many careers in my life and loved each one! My new career blossomed when I retired and become an OAP. I am passionate about childhood literacy, books in general and my garden. I love Ballet, Opera, Concerts, Theatre, (both professional and community) and Movies. I tend to have opinions on most things and enjoy a good debate about the topic, not the person. In my thirties, I married my GOM (Gorgeous or Grumpy Old Man) the love of my life.

  1. Great review. Just wish I had more hours to read more books 😀

  2. I have read all Liz Byrski’s books. Enjoyed them all. When is the next one coming?

    1 REPLY
    • Next month Elizabeth, Fremantle Press is publishing a book Purple Prose co-authored and edited by Liz Byrski and Rachel Robertson. Did you catch up with In Love and War her book about the servicemen who were badly burned in WW2?

  3. Gotten? Really? Sad about the Americanisation of our Australian English language. Try ‘received’.

    6 REPLY
    • I don’t like it for personal use, Alan, but let’s be fair. Although it is now an everyday part of Yanklish, its origins are English, from the Old English gietan, to get or obtain.

    • Vivienne Beddoe Really? I find it a bit sad when a promotion for an Aussie book is written in American. I will comment on the book when I have read it. I look forward to that, as reading is one of my most enjoyable activities and I have not read this author before.

    • Letting go of our language is not a good thing. Look at how the French defend this issue. It is part of our identity.

  4. Sum things u cannot 4giv..but u can move on n i can count my frenz on 1 hand who dont judge me ni matter wot i say or do

  5. I hav enjoyed the two or three Liz Bryski books I have read. She, through her books, demonstrates a good understanding of the issue or topic being explored or experienced by the characters. Must look out for the titles.

  6. I have become a real fan of her books and having read this one have just purchased a couple more on line.

  7. I have read all of Liz Byrski books, love them and I keep them 🙂

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