I just finished The Company We Keep by Canadian writer Frances Itani. It’s about six grieving strangers who have lost or are in the process of losing loved ones. They share their stories with one another, and find comfort and support in the new friendships they forge.
I’m a huge Itani fan, although I have to confess that this novel may verge on the sappy for some tastes. I don’t care. I liked it. And I cried.
I love the way Itani draws her characters and their relationships. There’s an antique dealer and a Syrian refugee, an “inmate” of an old age home, a bullied wife and even a parrot. There’s a funeral and a wedding. And there’s ritual and remembrance.
One of the characters in Itani’s novel recalls her childhood in wartime England. Every time an ambulance or a hearse would go by, her mother would stop and rhyme: “Hold your collar, touch your toes. Don’t want to be in one of those.” People in the street would stop and hold their collars too, until the transport passed by.
I had never heard of this custom, which apparently hearkens back to the time of the Great Plague. It got me thinking about funerals and death customs, but that will be another post.
Itani’s book is about love and grief and memory and the ties that bind us.
And it’s about stories—because that’s all that will survive us. Stories that hold love. Because, as the novel concludes, “There is room for love in the life of every person.”