Last Chance Café by Liz Byrski

by |March 11, 2011

Tuesday was a day of delicious serendipity. It was International Women’s Day and my firebrand final year high school daughter had been off at an early morning breakfast to celebrate. I found myself at an impromptu dinner that night in Glebe, the heartland of  Sydney’s feminism (and just about every ism), discussing the women’s movement with a philosophy lecturer who has the reputation of being the enemy of movement. He has attracted the ire of the old guard  due to his insistence that the disparity between the traditional position of the genders in our society is not caused by patriarchy and oppression but by economic conditions in which the plethora of non-manual jobs tempted women into paid employment.

With its focus on intergenerational women’s issues, could there have been a better day to be savouring the closing chapters of Liz Byrski‘s eminently readable novel, Last Chance Café?

I am sure Liz would have appreciated the ironies of the day. With a career spanning writing, broadcasting, politics and academia, no doubt she has had some stage crossed paths, and possibly swords, with my dinner companion.

With a PhD which focused on feminist popular fiction, she has  evolved into an immensely  satisfying novellist with a knack for shining the spotlight on areas that many shun.

Last Chance Café is a particular pleasure. The story revolves around two women in their early 70s, both of whom used to be members of the Sydney Push, who grew up as activists and collectivists, and who are now wondering how to channel their enormous energies and experiences as they age. But it is their relationships that hold the most interest – with former lovers and sparring partners, with their daughters, with younger women who are facing feminism’s latest onslaught – the sexualisation of children.

Liz Bryrski has long been fascinated with relationships between women.

“A profoundly important book was Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room, which I read in 1978.  It was hugely successful and it proved to me what I had always thought  –  that women can connect with each other in ways that transcend  the boundaries of class, education and frequently of race”, she said in an interview with Booktopia recently.

Last Chance Café explores those connections,  particularly those between women who are  largely deemed invisible by wider society by virtue of their age. What was touched on in say, Gang of Four, is developed in the most nuanced of ways in this latest book. Just one example – Emma, the cosmetically enhanced publicist for the local shopping centre, doesn’t notice the incongruity between the images of the women in the boutiques and the actual women who frequent them, searching in vain for clothes that are practical, attractive, comfortable and affordable.

While the book may be about feminism on one level, on a broader level, it is about the challenges and dare I say it, the joys, of ageing.

“(My novel is really about) mid-life and old age as opportunities for change, and about the pleasures of experiencing ageing and valuing it rather than trying to fight it”, she said to us recently.

You certainly don’t have to be a septuagenarian to enjoy Last Chance Café. I am closer to the age of the protagonists than my firebrand teen feminist daughter, but I have put the book in her hands and I haven’t heard a peep out of her since.

From Liz Bryski’s website:

Last Chance Café is about getting old facing the challenges and grasping the opportunities it provides; but it’s also about love, friendship, and connections that reach out across the generations between people who want to make a difference. I started off by asking what happened to the spirit that, 30 years ago, had women of all ages working together for change – for themselves, their sisters, daughters and granddaughters, their mothers, aunts and grandmothers? Is it really dead or simply simmering beneath the surface? Could the spirit of the seventies and eighties be revived?

What could happen if older women joined their wisdom and experience with the energy and passion of the young, to transcend the barriers of age and speak out against a culture that defines them by the way they look? What if they got together to ask the question – is there ever a time in a woman’s life when it is okay to be the age she is?

To see all of Liz Byrski’s books, go here.

Last Chance Café is an April release and is available to pre-order now.

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