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March 15, 2004 | by  | in Books |
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Songs from the Violet Café

Yes, more songs, although these would be of the metaphorical kind as Wellington author, Fiona Kidman, eloquently puts small town New Zealand into words. As a fellow small town café worker once myself I can relate to the setting and the characters of the novel in a way. Unfortunately the place I worked was nowhere near as intriguing or explosive as the Violet Café, but I could easily imagine the events and relationships of this detailed portrayal.

For the most part it is a snapshot of the early sixties based on the lives of characters who are somehow connected to the Violet Café. The place has a certain allure and the atmosphere is one of hidden secrets, mystique and heat. It is the setting for the gossip, rumours, passion, love and antagonism that are part and parcel of any small town community.

The story follows one of the waitresses, Jessie Sandle, from her adventures in the café to war torn Cambodia in the early 80s, where she works as a war correspondent. Although she and the others have gone their separate ways, the effect and the spirit of the Violet Cafe remain entrenched in all of them forever.

In many ways, this is a coming of age story, where Jessie and her other young workmates learn about life and loss, and most importantly, about themselves in ways that can be sweet and awakening and brutal and soul-destroying. Kidman portrays this complex group and the subtleties of their relationships in a way that makes them believable yet extraordinary. Her writing is clear and simple, but not simplistic.

Songs from the Violet Café was a good summer read which didn’t give or take too much. A well planned plot and interesting characters, each endearing in their own unique way, made for a very decent novel, with the feeling of being very close to home.

Fiona Kidman
Random House, $26.95

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