In, A Month of Sundays, the tenth novel by Liz Byrski, four women in their 60s and 70s, Ros, Adele, Judy and Simone have been members of an online book club for over ten years. However they have never met face to face.
Adele lives in Adelaide and was a highly successful director of a bureau until her recent retirement. Like many people in a similar situation, Adele is experiencing overwhelming difficulties facing who she is outside her work persona.
Marian, a former member of the Online book club has offered Adele the opportunity to house sit in the Blue Mountains, a rugged area west of Sydney with dramatic vistas.
Adele makes a very significant and discerning decision to invite the other three members of the online book club to join her for July. They all intrepidly respond in the affirmative to the offer of a holiday and respite in the Blue Mountains, where spectacular scenery and picturesque crafty villages provide a stunning backdrop to the unfolding narrative.
There is however, one prerequisite, each member must select a book and buy copies for the other participants. The books must “tell us all something significant about you. Be prepared to be honest about why you have chosen it and why it matters to you.
This makes it more than just a suggested read; it is an invitation from each one of us to the others to get to know each other better. Do not reveal or discuss your choice of book until it’s your turn to introduce it to the group.”
There is a power, honesty, courage and integrity about the protagonist’s choice of books. Elements of beguiling mysteries absorb the reader in the process of the selection and analysis of the books as they relate to the women and their current situations.
Ros Benson lives in Sydney and is deeply challenged by her recent Parkinson diagnoses. She is warmly consoled by her faithful dog Clooney. Ros continues to have a desperate and dependent need to openly converse with her husband who has passed away.
Judy owns her own flourishing retail business, a knitting shop in Mandurah in Western Australia. But commercial success has come at a price; she is totally worn out, has unresolved personal relationships that are very one-sided and hasn’t had a holiday for many years.
The fourth member of the book club is Simone from Hobart in Tasmania. She was a high school French teacher but currently is a yoga instructor for senior classes, predominately beginners.
Simone is tormented by an enigma from her past, the unexplained disappearance of her cherished neighbour Claire, and Claire’s two sons Geoff and Doug.
The characters tentatively embark on face to face relationships that will develop and strengthen as their characters, stories and interactions evolve. The supportive kinship is elevated through daily living together and the astute discoveries and connections they make about each other.
Compassion, companionship, laughter, tears, misunderstandings, empathy, kindness are beautifully scattered across the Blue Mountains haven and are ultimately transformational. These four women are brave, resilient and endearing with futures that are full of exciting possibilities.
Their four stories are intermingled with a zest for life and a love of literature that are engaging reminders of the power of reading and the wonder of friendships. Sometimes the books and lives of the four women overlap in a haunting parallelism.
A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski, (above) is a poignant tale, a gentle and timely reminder of the fragility and vulnerability of aging. As people enter old age they face challenges that include chronic health and mental issues, loneliness, financial concerns, physical injury, death of a spouse and the sense of feeling useless.
She echoes the thoughts and trepidations that plague us as we age. Our place and role in society, our relationships, and our purpose are explored with sensitivity and realism. Her approach is uplifting and offers the encouragement and approval to take risks, and the courage to face the difficulties that beset the aging population.
But, she also celebrates the grace, wisdom and options of our advanced years. The characters are given the openings to explore their anxieties and confront their pasts with the support and guidance of women who are insightful and genuinely care.
The tone of the language, ideas and story lines is comforting and respectful. It reaches and resonates with an audience so often neglected. The characters walk off the print and effortlessly lodge in the imagination. This is achieved through the intimacy developed between the characters and the reassurance that they are affirmed and endorsed by each other.
Each character’s response to problematic and traumatic situations is given credence and coherency through pensive exploration of the books, and the clarity of ideas expressed with consideration and acumen by the members of the book club.
The power of friendship, the pleasure of reading and the purpose of books are aligned in a quintessential fusion. Liz Byrski has the innate ability, judgement and perception to respond to making sincere connections and sharing joy with her readers.
Secrets are untangled; relationships cemented, unravelled and resolved amid conversations about books and life.
To seize the opportunity for change, to embrace the chance to reinvent and to understand the power of acceptance are driving themes that boost esteem and enhance morale.
Facing the complexities of aging, retirement, health, loneliness, directionless, displacement, unresolved encounters and events circulate through the narrative breathing a dialogue of rich thoughts and rational and achievable resolutions.
The sentiments and discoveries within A Month of Sundays are uplifting expressions of a nurturing optimism that is often neglected in our current world and contemporary literature.
The process of reading and analysis is so accessibly written by Liz that truths and revelations will be unearthed for the reader’s exploration.
“Reading this has reminded her that there is such a thing as a slow pace in life, and the pleasure of savouring words and sentences and thinking about what they mean, instead of charging rapidly through to the end.”
Liz Byrski, is masterful in her developments of character and personality. She offers the reader that rare opportunity to know the four women, to imagine them and almost feel their tangible presence. Their tender tales touch the heart and mind filtering the light and life of latter years.
Rose Niland, Special Features Correspondent NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018