Ruby stares at the letter and wonders why she isn’t crying, why the threat of that first sob has dissipated, why not a single tear is sliding down her cheek. It contains too much, she thinks, too much of her past, too many complex and conflicting emotions; it’s an ending which both robs and liberates.
When Ruby hears that her lifelong friend Cat has died and left her a controlling interest in a lavender farm in Australia, her emotions are mixed. Her relationship with Cat stretches back sixty years when they travelled together as orphans unwillingly sent to Australia. Together they survived the difficult years that followed, but in adulthood they became estranged. Now Ruby knows she has left it too late to visit Cat one more time.
Declan, too, has not spent as much time with Cat as he should have. Her nephew by marriage, he has spent much of his life drifting, but his share of Benson’s Reach brings him back to the place he loved as a child. His friend Alice also needs refuge, so Declan invites her to the farm, too.
Declan and Ruby are just two of the group of relative strangers who find themselves forming a kind of family as they work together to revitalise Benson’s Reach and follow Cat’s dreams. Each has ghosts to confront and must struggle to find peace, but perhaps they have more chance of doing so together than individually.
In the Company of Strangers is a moving tale of friendship old and new, exploring issues of forgiveness and self discovery. Set on a fictional tourist development int he South West of Western Australia, the novel focuses on characters from diverse backgrounds, allowing the reader to get to know each intimately. There are also mysteries and an exploration of the history and impact of the Child Migrant Scheme between the UK and Australia during World War II.
One of Byrski’s strength is in her ability create well rounded and interesting mature female characters, which she does here as well as previously, but the male characters also shine, and every character has layers which are gradually unwrapped as the tale progresses, keeping the reader surprised.
A satisfying tale.
In the Company of Strangers, by Liz Byrski
Available from good bookstores or online.