First and foremost, a big shout out to author Brenda Cheers and Goodreads for my free reading copy, which I won in a recent competition. Thanks!
Let me start this review with a little anecdote. A few evenings ago, I had a craving for some cheese and Vegemite toasties. With my senses tingling and mouth watering in that very special way that one only reserves for cheese and Vegemite toasties, I set about in the kitchen, collecting the right ingredients, lightly toasting the bread and then smearing on the Vegemite so that it was at that special consistency where you can still taste it under the layer of cheese but isn't yet strong enough to overpower the whole thing. Then I added a layer of cheese and laid my special and much wanted snack under the grill for the final toasting that would melt the cheese to that very special bubbling and slightly brown consistency. All good right? Well, it was until I got impatient. I was so hungry and so eager for my little snack that I took it off the grill just a moment too soon. My cheese and Vegemite toastie wasn't bad by a long stretch, but it certainly did not live up to its full potential.
And that is a little how I felt about In Converstations With Strangers. The author had all the ingredients there to make a special and unique book. It is a tale of a woman, Janine, who, as she flees from her home and heartbreak, travels through Australia and begins writing down the stories of the people that she meets.
Unfortunately, as a reader, I felt that something about it wasn't quite done yet. The heroine, Janine, was an interesting lady with a huge backstory that doesn't get fully revealed until the very end. Unfortunately, I felt that the story lacked a certain level of depth that would have helped me to understand the character and her motives a bit more. I can see that the author wanted to create literary fiction that included a layer of mystery, but it would have helped me early on if I had understood why Janine was running away, or what her motive were for recording the stories of the strangers that she meets as she travels through Australia. This doesn't need to be said explicitly, but some kind of hint needs to be there. Or even if I could just have reason to feel some kind of empathy for the heroine. Literary fiction is more than just keeping details from the reader. What is unsaid is often important and must be shown or hinted at in other ways. The concept of stories within a story is brilliant though, and reminded me a little of Eucalyptus by Murray Bail but with a bit more of a 'real life' twist. The ending was quite a dark one and left me feeling cold.
In Conversations With Strangers isn't an awful book, but I really get the feeling that this one could have been a lot better if the author had spent some more on the manuscript to develop the characters and situations to a greater level.