The novel by Australian author Liz Byrski is set against a diverse backdrop. There is the legacy of The Push movement in Sydney contrasted with a pilgrimage walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Throughout, there is the theme of the damaging, unhealthy expectations placed upon women by a culture of shallow, superficial advertising glorifying unrealistic ideals of beauty and body image.
Unfolding within the presence of the pervasive artifice of media manipulation of the female image, is the issue of the exploitation of children…little girls sexualised into “glamour” pole-dancing mini-adults destined for a dysfunctional life pursuing commercially driven, appearance-obsessed, perfection. Despite all this, this is a novel that is entertaining, witty, informative and thought-provoking all at the same time. It is primarily a story about the importance of friendship, the unique bond especially between women, the support system and nurturing, the ‘being there’ for each other.
“Last Chance Cafe” is a masterfully crafted story, woven around the long-standing relationship between two friends, Dot and Margot, who meet again after some years. Their lives intertwine around Margot’s family and Dot’s past. This rekindling of their friendship is the backbone around which many outstanding issues for Dot, Margot, their families and friends revolve and are resolved.
The characters reflect the yearnings, insecurities, triumphs and failings present in all women, and the empathy the reader develops with the characters is unavoidably real. Dot, with her burgundy hair, penchant for chaining herself to railings in protest and suppressed fear of real intimacy, is endearing. Margot, hitherto selflessly living through the needs of others, finally has the ‘wake-up’ call to put herself first. Both women, and the other people in their lives, come to learn that change is not to be feared, but embraced.
These strong and independent women “rage against the dying of the light” and do not “go gentle into the good night”. Serenity accompanies acceptance of what they cannot change. That however, which they can, gives the realisation, as George Eliot puts it, “that it is never too late to be what you might have been…”
It is an engaging, brilliantly written story that flows from the first page to the last, with humour and pathos. It recognises so much of what it is to be a woman in this present day. It ties up the past with the present, and gives hope for the future. It is impossible not to gain inspiration from reading “Last Chance Cafe” – that one is never too old or indeed, too young, to learn, to start again or to be challenged…many women will identify with Liz Byrski’s take on life and gain a great deal more from this book than just a very enjoyable read.