Sometimes friendship springs from where you least expect it.
Minnie has lived in the beautiful but dilapidated Rosemount house for her whole life. Watchful and perceptive, she now finds herself looking back through the decades to a painful secret that has guarded since her teens and which has shrouded her life with sorrow.
Max lives opposite Minnie on the housing estate which was built in Rosemount’s grounds, and has grown up happily with his single mother. She has begun a new relationship and suddenly life is starting to change.
As each of them tell their stories, Minnie with her resurrected childhood journal, Max by chatting into a dictaphone, they see each other through their bedroom windows and slowly and hesitantly an unlikely friendship begins to form; a friendship that will help Max come to terms with the present and table Minnie, finally, to conquer the ghosts of her past.
The Comfort of Others is a beautiful book of friendship, forgiveness and hope. It is well written with a prose that engages the reader and enables the story to flow seamlessly throughout. The story is told in alternative chapters in the first person by Max and Minnie. I really liked the way that Max’s chapters were in normal text and Minnie’s, through her writing, in Italics; it distinguishes the old of writing things in a journal or diary, to the modern of Max speaking into his dictaphone. The old and new is a theme throughout the book; the selling of Rosemount grounds in the 1960’s for social housing, the expectations of women and pregnancy in the 1960’s to today, change in family dynamics. This theme is apparent in the relationship between Max and Minnie, she shows him the past through antiques in the house and he teaches her about the modern world.
Kay Langdale characterisation is discerning in her ability to write with such detail and feeling for both Max and Minnie. Each character is treated with empathy and understanding, in bringing their personal stories to life. Max and Minnie’s interaction is heartwarming, they are able to bridge the generational gap and just see each other for who they are. One thing that I did note is that neither gave a name to the person that was causing the heartache: Max refers to his mum’s boyfriend as ‘he’ throughout the book and it is not until the final chapter that he is given name. The same applies to Minnie who never gives a name to her baby, again just referred to as ‘he’. This lack of personalisation is a coping mechanism, if a person doesn’t have a name then do they really exist.
The Comfort of Other’s deals with some very difficult issues; rape, teenage pregnancy, single parent families, and the blended family. All are treated with compassion and understanding in what are issues that cause contradictory view points. All arguments are dealt with fairly and I found the different outlooks really interesting and refreshing, so many books only portray one side of the story. For all the difficult issues this book is about how friendship can cross the the generational gap and that problems are better spoken about than bottled up.
I really enjoyed this novel and its honesty of feelings and human characterisation. The story line is subtle, insightful and beautifully narrated by Max and Minnie. This book is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time , a charming read of the power of friendship.