The Briny Café by Susan Duncan: Review by Toni Whitmont

by |August 8, 2011

I am the first to admit that I was a late comer to the Susan Duncan phenomenon. I had plenty of recommendations for Salvation Creek from happy customers, but I didn’t actually get around to reading any of her books until I interviewed her on the publication of A Life on Pittwater, the wonderful visual memoir of the community on the islands off the northern most tip of Sydney.

There is a clip of that interview here.

A couple of weeks ago we were able to source a supply of her two memoirs plus A Life on Pittwater in a pack, and we sold nearly 100 of them in a about 10 days, such is the measure of enthusiasm amongst the reading public for her story.

And so to The Briny Café, Susan’s very first novel.

What works so well about this book is that it is based on a fictitious water-accessed community already so familiar to us from Salvation Creek. More importantly it plays to that deep yearning for both community, and connection, that so many people experience.

The main character is Ettie Brookbank, a woman in her 50s who is central to everyone’s lives in sleepy Cook’s Basin, only accessible by boat. The community is held together by The Briny Café, a sagging, decrepit, weatherboard construct that is in danger of collapsing down into its moorings.

The Briny Café is a book where nothing much happens – and I say that as a good thing. The focus is on the characters, the vignettes of interaction, the integration of new comer, the allowances for small eccentricities, the cementing of some relationships, the fracturing of others. Yes, there is a villain of the piece, and yes, he is pretty nasty, but the book is essentially about ordinary people doing ordinary things in a most extraordinary location – and finding their place.

Don’t misunderstand me. The Briny Café shines. It is the simplicity of the tale, the familiarity of the characters that makes it work so wonderfully. Susan avoids cliché while offering something that we all really want – to feel good about life, to feel good about other people, and to get some respite from the stuff of everyday madness.

The Briny Café is warm, engaging, nourishing and refreshing. Settling down to read it is rather like settling down to a good cup of tea and one of Ettie’s famous raspberry muffins.

The Briny Café is a September release and is available to pre-order here. Meanwhile, go here to read Susan Duncan’s answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions.

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