Updated: Feb 2
A teenager struggling to be accepted by toxic social peers. The ghostly reappearance of ancestors offers guidance and perspective. The unheard stories of three extraordinary women were deemed unremarkable by their social conventions.
Eleanor Hardwick, Ellie, has moved to a new school and is struggling to fit in with her new unpleasant classmates. One day after school, after an odd encounter earlier in the day with an older woman she doesn’t recognise, she searches for her mother in the restaurant her mother co-owns and finds the tasting room transformed into a dining room occupied by three seemingly eccentric women: Amy, Lotty and Winifred.
Back when you were a teenager struggling with conforming to a new social group, wouldn’t you have benefited from the wisdom of your ancestors?
How marvellous it would be to go back in time essentially, meet the women of your family past and hear their stories, knowing they are there to help you face your present-day challenges.
Throughout a 1920s-styled dinner that Ellie is invited to join, we learn that Ellie is descended from each of these three women, and the untold stories of these remarkable women gradually unfold.
Nicole Stout has researched the lives of her ancestors, Charlotte Sophie Burn (Lotty), Winifred Margaret Davies, and Amy Pacheco Mello, through letters, diaries and family testimonies and cleverly use the device of the bullied teenager Ellie to uncover their lost stories.
Through these narratives, we hear the different voices of Amy, Lotty and Winifred: the challenges they’ve faced, their loves, loss, and achievements. We also experience the interaction between the women, in a way which wouldn’t have been possible when they were alive, and between each woman and their descendent, Ellie.
The excellence of Unexpected Companions means that through telling their stories, we develop an insight into the characters of each of Ellie's ancestors. Unexpected Companions isn’t simply a recitation of their lives but often a wistful reflection on past events and past lives.
The author comments;
'I wanted to give these women a voice and have them tell their stories because they were too busy with other cares to talk about themselves when they were alive.'
Nicole Stout also includes the three women’s family trees at the beginning of the book and adds traditional family recipes mentioned in the novel at the end. This enhances the authenticity of the stories and highlights her personal connection to the three characters.
(If you like the sound of Unexpected Companions, you may also enjoy The Hiding Place by Jenny Quintana, an emotional mystery skilfully set in separate time periods, the early 1990s and the early 1960s.)
If you like a tale of family history combined with benign haunting rooted in modern-day challenges, then you will certainly enjoy Unexpected Companions.