Last drinks at the Last Chance Cafe

Most of the time I’m too busy chasing my tail (and my kids) to worry too much about ageing. Nonetheless, in the quieter moments, I have caught myself worrying just a little about the state of the lines around my eyes, the colour of my hair (is that grey, or mousey-brown?), the quickness of my step. In these moments, I give myself a little kick and remind myself of the only sure-fire solution to ageing.

Surely though, few of us can claim to have no worries at all about beauty, health, and ageing, and it is these commonly held concerns that are the anchors of Liz Byrski’s latest novel Last Chance Cafe.

“Margot detests shopping malls. Any distraction is welcome, and the woman who has chained herself to the escalator, shouting about the perils of consumerism, is certainly that. She recognises Dot immediately – from their campaigning days, and further back still, to when Margot married Laurence.

Dot is in despair at the abondonment of the sisterhood, at the idea of pole dancing as empowerment, and the sight of five-year-olds with false eyelashes and padded bras. She’s still a fierce campaigner, but she isn’t sure where to direct her rage.

Meanwhile Margot holds a haunting resentment that her youthful ambitions have always been shelved to attend to the needs of others. And as the two women turn to the past for solutions for the future, Margot’s family is in crisis. Laurence travels in a bid to repress his grief, daughter Lexie loses her job after twenty years, and her younger sister Emma hides her pain with shopping binges.”

This is a really clever, very enjoyable book. It’s very nearly soap-opera-like, but much more skilfully put together than a simple melodrama. It deals with real issues, and asks (and answers) many questions regarding relationships, families and really interestingly, gender. It explores what it is to be family, and the part that trust plays in our relationships. Truths are revealed gradually, and Byrski builds the anticipation and tension expertly.

Liz’s characters are fallible but inherently likeable. I honestly felt that I travelled a little way with them as they lurched up and down through trauma, grief, break-throughs and discovery. The author has painted a refreshingly optimistic picture of this close-knit group of family and friends going through an intense period of change and upheaval together.

I’ll add that, as well as the main narrative of this novel, I found the secondary theme of this book really interesting. Liz happily puts her characters on their soapboxes, allowing for an interesting dialogue regarding women’s issues, in particular questions around the portrayal of women and girls, and their subsequent self-persception. These are really important issues, and are very topical in our current highly media-influenced, and often hyper-sexualised environment.

Now, you might think that Last Chance Cafe sounds like a very serious book, but it’s not. It pays crediance to its ernest themes, but it does so with good humour, and a day-to-day humanity.

“Margot sees it as a scene. A table groaning with food on a warm December afternoon; the characters seated around it, paper hats at odd angles, faces flushed from one too many glasses of champagne…

A family group; snap goes the camera and captures the image, and somewhere, sometime in the future, some one looks at it, reads into it their own story, speculates on what they were to each other, and what happened next. But the truth is subtle, complex and constantly shifting. This simple scene is a map of intersecting stories, of old loves and old deceptions, of new loves and new beginnings, of broken hearts and broken promises, of new discoveries and passionate inner journeys.”

I closed this book warmly, feeling a bit like I’d made a new group of friends. I certainly wished them well.


If you’re interested in reading this novel, pop into Kidna Books: 422 Hampton Street, Hampton or give Linda a call on 9521 8272, she’ll be able to fix you up with a copy.

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