If you like stories about friendship and you’ve ever longed to recapture a time in your life when you were completely free, no plans, no responsibilities, the future still an unwritten chapter, then Amanda Hampson’s new book, Sixty Summers, is for you.
Forty years since they first met and became firm friends, Maggie, Fran and Rose are feeling restless, disenchanted. Whatever happened to their youthful dreams and ambitions, to the three young women who took off to Europe in a Kombi van?
Life is what happened. Marriage and children back in Australia for Maggie and Rose (with varying degrees of success). Fran who has never married, stayed on in London and is living with the less than ideal Louis. During a once a year Skyping session to celebrate the anniversary of their friendship, it becomes apparent that everyone, Maggie especially, is discontented with their current lot. This sparks an idea: why not leave it all behind and go on the road again together, to travel around Europe, back to the places they visited on their first trip?
If the first trip marked the end of the first quarter of their lives, this one will mark the end of the third quarter. ‘We have to do something,’ reasons Rose. ‘Reassess. Not just plod on until we die.’
Once dis-entangled from their current lives and commitments – not easily done – they take off together. Three great friends on the road again, eager to re-live a magical time in their younger lives and come back inspired and rejuvenated. As the book blurb asks, ‘what could possibly go wrong?’
A lot, as it turns out. Maggie is clearly troubled. Adventures are hard to come across.
The spontaneity of hitting the Autobahn in a Kombi has been replaced by a sedate travel itinerary with bookings in B&Bs. And true independence and disconnection proves elusive. Back in the day they never heard the news or received emails or phone calls. Now, the problems of the world and those of their own families, have pursued them. ‘It seemed there was no escape.’
And of course, although their lives have changed greatly since they first met, they haven’t changed that much, so the trio find themselves trapped in the same conversations and the same conflicts they had 40 years ago.
Only when an unexpected event steers them off course and they find themselves in trouble, backs against the wall, does the journey of self-realisation and reassessment begin. There are adventures and startling confessions. Wet feet. Hunger. A near fatal incident. And for each of them, an honest reckoning.
Amanda Hampson’s writing comes alive with her characters and dialogue. Funny and astute, her observations on friendship, the two sides of family life – the joys and the slavery – ageing and regret, are spot on, especially for boomers. And for those of all ages who need to be reminded about the cost of always compromising our dreams and the importance of doing what makes us truly happy, Sixty Summers is the wake-up call we all need.
Amanda Hampson grew up in rural New Zealand. She spent her early twenties travelling, finally settling in Australia in 1979 where she now lives in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Writing professionally for more than 20 years, she is the author of two non-fiction books, numerous articles and novels The Olive Sisters, Two for the Road, The French Perfumer and The Yellow Villa.