With warmth and humour, Danielle Hawkins explores family, friendship and love in rural New Zealand in this delightful debut novel. Dinner At Rose's fits right in with Allen & Unwin's current crop of rural lit in the Australian market, despite being set in New Zealand. The author herself was raised on a cattle and sheep farm and now works alongside her husband in their dairy farm while also working as a large animal vet.
In Dinner at Rose's, the protagonist Jo Donnelly has returned to the small farming community she was raised in to take up a temporary position at the local physiotherapists after discovering an affair between her boyfriend and best friend. While her parents have moved on, Jo's beloved honorary Aunt Rose and many of her childhood friends remain in the area and Jo easily she slips back into life in Waimanu after years in inner city Melbourne. As Jo juggles dodgy clients with 'groin strain', a receptionist who barely remembers to answer the phone, a joyless roommate and her rebellious 'little sister' Kim, she realises her crush on Matt, her childhood friend and Rose's nephew, is resurfacing, though it seems doomed to remain unrequited given his relationship with 'Farmer Barbie'. When Aunt Rose falls ill, Jo and Matt are determined to care for the woman they cherish in her own home, but as they grow closer, Rose begins to drift further away.
I love the characters of Dinner at Rose's. Jo is smart, capable and witty. Even though her life has fallen down around her ears she has picked herself back up and is moving on with determination. Rose is just delightful, the type of aunt we all wish we had who is enhanced by her eccentricities and unfailingly supportive. Matt is a genuinely nice guy, steady, loyal and handsome. Their relationships with each other are heart warming and Hawkins beautifully captures the dynamics of a 'family' chosen and nurtured.
One of the things I found most entertaining in Dinner at Rose's is the author's sense of humour. Rose's eccentricities are warm and amusing from her penchant for plain speaking to her mollycoddling of her pet pig, Percy. Jo is quick witted with a biting, yet not cruel, sarcastic attitude. The banter between Jo and Matt is funny and their jibes firmly grounds their life long friendship. Several of the minor characters can best be described as quirky, including the environmental nazi roommate and halitosis sufferer, Bob McIntosh. Matt's mother is clueless and the cause of much unintended hilarity while Kim's teenage dramatics have you laughing in recognition. Amongst all the laughter though, Hawkins sensitively deals with the more serious events in the novel. Her characters have to face betrayal, illness, stalking, injury and loss but it is these difficulties that enhance the joy of the novel.
Dinner at Rose's is a charming read that will have you smiling, even through the few tears that escape. I truly enjoyed this contemporary story that blends romance, friendship, tragedy and love with humor and heart.