Title: The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village
Author: Joanna Nell
Published: September 25th 2018
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
The life of 79-year-old pensioner PEGGY SMART is as beige as the decor in her retirement village. Her week revolves around aqua aerobics and appointments with her doctor. Following a very minor traffic accident, things have turned frosty with her grown-up children and she is afraid they are trying to take away her independence.
The highlight of Peggy’s day is watching her neighbour Brian head out for his morning swim. She dreams of inviting the handsome widower – treasurer of the Residents’ Committee and one of the few eligible men in the village – to an intimate dinner. But why would an educated man like Brian, a chartered accountant no less, look twice at Peggy? As a woman of a certain age, she fears she has become invisible, even to men in their eighties.
But a chance encounter with an old school friend she hasn’t seen in five decades – the glamorous fashionista ANGIE VALENTINE – sets Peggy on an unexpected journey of self-discovery.
The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village is the debut novel of Australian writer Joanna Nell. I had my doubts about reading this book as retirement is a long way off but decided to give it a try after it was nominated as a book club read for Books With Heart. To my surprise it was a delightful way to spend the time as it was unexpectedly witty, smart as well as honest and hopeful.
The protagonist is 79 (and a half!) year old Peggy Smart, who is dealing with the ups and down of life as a retiree at Jacaranda Retirement Village. Nell does a wonderful job of exploring the typical daily life of retirees through Peggy and her friends, a diverse range of individuals who choose to be, or are forced, to be neighbours. There were many moments when I giggled at the antics that the villagers got up to, especially the women. I could relate to the different types of relationships, Nell demonstrating the complexities of women’s relationships doesn’t change with age!
There’s a change in the air for Peggy when her friend, Angie Valentine, moves into the Jacaranda Retirement Village. Angie is a force to be reckoned with, a bright, colourful woman, who appears to be ageless. In many ways she is the opposite of Peggy, who sees herself as ‘beige’. Angie teaches Peggy some much needed, valuable life lessons, including fighting for the one you love. Watching Angie throwing herself at Brian Cornell was hilarious, reminiscent of seeing teenagers fight over a guy. In the end, Angie too is only human and age eventually catches up with her.
Nell also shines a light on societies treatment of senior citizens. Through Peggy’s children, David and Jenny, she shows the patronising way the elderly are treated. Peggy is treated as if she were a child and she is no longer able to make decisions. As Peggy’s children were often absent in her life, I found myself feeling angry about their treatment towards their mother. The siblings thought they knew what was best for Peggy so I was willing her to stand up for herself. When Peggy does, I applauded her for finding her feet and becoming independent once again.
Told in the third person, this is a character driven story that will stay with you for a long time as it examines old age, friendship, love and family with clarity.
The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Nell is published by Hachette Autstralia. $29.99. Out now.
To learn more about the author of The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village, Joanna Nell, visit here.