Imagine walking in on your almost-fiancÃ© in flagrante delicto with your best friend. For Jo Donnelly, this is the trigger to leave her fast-paced Melbourne life and take up a locum physiotherapist position in the small New Zealand town of Waimanu where she grew up. Here is the scene for Dinner at Rose’s, a charming novel from Danielle Hawkins. Back in her safe and fairly isolated haven of Waimanu, Jo catches up with childhood friends, including her beloved, and not-really-related Aunt Rose, whose cooking is to be applauded more for its originality and enthusiasm than for its culinary achievements. Rose represents, for Jo, all that is worthy – exuberance, love for life, and a cheery attitude to those who are less sensible than her, as well as a take-no-prisoners attitude to bad grammar and misplaced apostrophes.
But having dinner with Rose is more than just food. It is about the comfort and warmth of being in your home town, of the surroundings that make you feel safe and remind you of all the good times growing up. Here, Jo has a chance to rest, lick her wounds, and also delete her ex-best-friend off her Facebook friends list. And then there is the story of those childhood friends. There is Matt, Rose’s nephew, who rushed home from Europe four years ago to be at his father’s funeral and take over the family dairy farm. There is Kim, Matt’s sister, who has grown from an awkward twelve-year-old to a blossoming eighteen-year-old who looks to Jo for worldly womanly advice. And there are a host of high school friends who make Jo feel reconnected with the world.
When Rose hears terrible news, Jo drops everything to be with her. The family rally around and amidst sorrow, there is strength and trust built again and it seems like nothing can go wrong. Despite the sadness in this novel, it is so delicately written, so carefully constructed, that while you may have a lump in your throat, you also have a smile on your face. There is laughter and love and life in full measure, even when things cannot seem to be sadder for Jo and Rose. I could not tear myself away from this novel and had many moments of pure laugh-out-loud joy as well as times when I was reaching for the tissues.
Available now: Allen & Unwin RRP$32.99