Thursday, 5 January 2017

Songs From The Violet Cafe by Fiona Kidman

Songs From The Violet Cafe by Fiona Kidman
First published by Random House New Zealand in 2003. Aardvark Bureau edition published in the UK on the 2nd January 2017 (Paperback edition due on 16th Jan 2017).

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the ebook from
Pre-order the paperback from Speedyhen
Pre-order the paperback from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New Zealand, 1943. Violet Trench crosses Lake Rotorua with a small boy, Wing Lee, but rows back alone. Twenty years later, the same body of water is the scene of an event that will have lasting repercussions for Violet and her employees at the cafe she runs now on the lake shore. The lives of these young people will diverge, their paths to independence taking them as far apart as Cambodia and the USA, but Violet’s influence will continue to mark both those who leave and those who stay behind.

I am blogging this particular review today to coincide with my WorldReads from New Zealand post over on my Stephanie Jane blog.

I am delighted to have discovered Fiona Kidman's writing through Songs From The Violet Cafe as I absolutely loved every page of this book. It primarily portrays a community which feels very much of its time (1963) and with a strong sense of New Zealand too. Kidman vividly describes town and rural landscapes around Lake Rotorua as well as having great insight into the characters living there. For such a wide open area, I felt a very real sense of claustrophobia within the town. Characters from distant lands seem able to comfortably settle, but many born there strive to escape, particularly the young women.

This is very much a novel of relationships and how the effects of our interactions with each other ripple out across both time and distance. As well as the 1960s, we see glimpses of Violet and the others twenty years earlier and up to forty years later which I thought added significant depth and poignancy to the central story. Sometimes the era was tricky to establish. Some 1960s attitudes were very much of the 1940s, or earlier, whereas Violet's Cafe seemed almost shockingly modern in contrast. Kidman's measured writing is beautifully elegant and in keeping with Violet's upmarket aspirations which I think she was trying to pass on to her 'girls'. Their lives didn't have to be constrained to home and children and it was fascinating to see, decades later, what became of those who survived and what had made Violet into the woman she was. A truly wonderful novel.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Fiona Kidman / Historical fiction / Books from New Zealand


  1. Small towns tend to do that to me as well. But sometimes, it also gives me a sense of wanting to be a part of that closeness. :)

    1. I know what you mean and I think I would have liked to work at Violet's Cafe for a while for that reason.