In the Company of Strangers, by Liz Byrski

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

In the Company of Strangers, by Liz Byrski
ISBN 9781742611297

Available from good bookstores or online.

Food, Sex and Money, by Liz Byrski

When Bonnie returns to Australia following the death of her husband, she realises that financial security doesn’t guarantee fulfilment. She meets up with her two old school friends, who she hasn’t seen for forty years. Fran is a food writer, struggling with juggling her work, her finances, and her relationship with her adult children; and Sylvia is trapped in a loveless marriage to an Anglican minister who is hiding a big secret. Its revelation will shatter her.

As the three women renew their friendship, they also come together on an ambitious business venture which will see each woman reshape her life in ways she would never have imagined. Along the way there are challenges, shocks and tears for the trio, but there is also triumph and joy.

Food, Sex and Money is a women’s story with a difference – the age of the main characters, who are in the fifties. Whilst there are a range of other characters, the focus is squarely on these three women facing challenges which are a blend of those peculiar to their stage of lives and those faced by women (and men) of all ages. Each woman seems very real, with her own blend of strengths and weaknesses and readers will find themselves believing in these women and celebrating with them.

A novel which celebrates life in all its stages.

Food, Sex and Money, by Liz Byrski
Macmillan, 2005

Gang of Four, by Liz Byrski

When Isabel decides she needs a break she doesn’t opt for a couple of weeks in a classy resort. No, she wants to take a year out and leave her husband, children, grandchildren and friends behind while she backpacks across Europe. Feeling incomplete, she wants to do something for herself and, at the same time, get to know her dead mother better by retracing her journey decades ago.

When Isabel tells her closest friends – Sally Robin and Grace – of her plans, they initially think she’s crazy. But soon enough each of the remaining members of the ‘gang of four’ are embarking on their own journeys. Sally heads off to San Francisco for a year’s study, hoping also to lay a guilty secret to rest. Robin, sick of being ‘the other woman’, rents a country hideout, hoping for time to heal and to make plans for her future. Grace, the sensible one, isn’t sure she needs to ‘do’ anything, but finds herself heading off for a short holiday in England – where she has to confront someone she hardly knows: herself.

These four very different women, separated by geographical distance, but united by their decades-old friendship, each learn about themselves, their past and their future in very different ways. New friendships are formed, life-changing decisions are made, but when one of the friends needs the others, they are able to come together once more.

Gang of Four is a very different coming-of-age story in that the protagonists are all in their fifties. Author Liz Byrski does a superb job of crafting four very different stories which overlap, diverge and merge again throughout the book. The reader is given the opportunity to know each of the four women intimately and to witness their friendship and their growth on a first hand basis.


Gang of Four, by Liz Byrski
Macmillan, 2004