Book Bingo 2020 is a collaboration challenge I am completing for the third year with my favourite bloggers, Theresa Smith Writes and The Book Muse. On the second Saturday of each month, beginning on Saturday 11th January 2020, Theresa, Ashleigh and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The Book Bingo 2020 card contains a total of 12 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year, with the aim to complete the whole card by December. To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us, there is no crossover – that is planned anyway! We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post, tagging us on social media, posting in Page by Page Book Club with Theresa Smith Writes or by visiting our blogs The Book Muse and Theresa Smith Writes.
The author of treasured Australian bestseller THE INAUGURAL MEETING OF THE FAIRVALE LADIES BOOK CLUB returns with a novel perfect for your book club
It’s 1982 in Australia. THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER is a box office hit and Paul Hogan is on the TV.
In a seaside suburb, housewife Theresa takes up swimming. She wants to get fit; she also wants a few precious minutes to herself. So at sunrise each day she strikes out past the waves.
From the same beach, the widowed Marie swims. With her husband gone, bathing is the one constant in her new life.
After finding herself in a desperate situation, 25-year-old Leanne only has herself to rely on. She became a nurse to help others, even as she resists help herself.
Elaine has recently moved from England. Far from home and without her adult sons, her closest friend is a gin bottle.
In the waters of Shelly Bay, these four women find each other. They will survive bluebottle stings and heartbreak; they will laugh so hard they swallow water, and they will plunge their tears into the ocean’s salt. They will find solace and companionship, and learn that love takes many forms.
Most of all, they will cherish their friendship, each and every day.
‘Last one in’s a rotten egg!’ cries Theresa as she takes off at a trot, and within a minute they are a mass of arms and legs pushing and kicking and diving, four unlikely mermaids swimming for the distant shore.
The bonds of female friendship in Sophie Green’s second novel are cemented through the act of ocean based swimming in The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Circle. Sophie Green’s follow up to her top 10 bestseller The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club, is another warmhearted tale of unconditional friendship, support and positivity. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all the members of The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Circle.
Opening in the Spring of 1982, The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Circle introduces four unforgettable friends. Theresa is a harried housewife, who swims in an effort to improve her fitness. Theresa has only a few precious moments to herself, so swimming keeps her grounded. Theresa is determined to stick to her new fitness regime. Alongside Theresa is Marie, a widower who breaks up her long and lonely days with swimming, it is her only constant. While Leanne, a young woman of twenty five, has started using swimming as a form of therapy to help her overcome her tragic past. Finally, Elaine has recently settled in Shelley Bay from the UK. Elaine turns to drinking to distract her from the distance she feels from her family in England. Swimming is Elaine’s outlet and the one thing that stops her from drinking. Together, these very different women find the healing power of the ocean and the support of new friends to get them through the tough times.
It was a nice feeling to return to the writing of Sophie Green. I really enjoyed her 2017 release, The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club (I still adore this title). The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is somewhat linked to Green’s first novel. It explores friendships formed and cemented, with a group of women from contrasting backgrounds. Despite their clear differences, friendship is the overall winner, reminding the audience of the sheer importance of surrounding yourself with a good circle of friends.
I really loved the structure of The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Circle It opens in Spring 1982 and it travels through the various seasons, which are clearly marked out for the reader. The book closes in the summer of 1984. I liked how the book changed with the seasons and we see how the women’s swimming habits change to accommodate the weather, seasons and their life changes. I think this was a creative narrative format. I also liked that the narrative shifted between each of the four pivotal characters, so the audience gets know each one quite intimately.
The characterisation in The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is absolutely wonderful. I developed a clear picture of each woman, her life situation, her moods, her shortcomings, assets and hopes. Although I bonded with each of the four women in their own way, I think I made a special connection to Theresa. I could relate to her life situation as a housewife, mum of two and her feelings towards her marriage. I also understood how she felt so strongly towards her swimming, as it was the one thing that defined her as person, rather than a mother, wife, granddaughter, or volunteer. Theresa’s story moved me immensely and it really pushed this one to a five star read for me.
Within this involving story Green succinctly explores a plethora of themes that seem to speak very well of the issues that concern women of any age or background. From marital issues, parenting, body image, infidelity, care of the elderly, ageing, family obligations, stoicism, expectations, alcoholism, loneliness, isolation, migration, trauma, sexual assault, adoption, family estrangement and depression the list is quite long, but these are all affecting themes. Green treats each of these concerns with a sensitive and thoughtful approach. I felt Green really understood what makes women laugh, cry, despair and turn to their friends for support. It really reiterated for me the need to nurture the female friendships and different companions I have in my life.
There was a delightful sense of nostalgia that went with the time period in which this book is set, the heart of the early eighties. Although I was born when this decade began, I still look to this time and the memories I have growing up as a young child with fondness. I connected to the pop culture references, such as Paul Hogan and The Man From Snowy River. I loved this simpler time, but it also reminded me of the restrictions on women at this time, particularly those in loveless and toxic marriages. This was a time when divorce was still frowned upon and women were not supported to go it alone. It is a very authentic depiction of the time, thanks to Green’s in touch writing. There are some pertinent observations on women’s thought patterns during this particular era that struck a chord with me.
‘Elaine wants to laugh from dismay, because she understands too well: it’s the story of her life, to not make a big fuss. She is sure Theresa doesn’t make big fusses either, not Marie or Leanne. They are all so well trained. They’re women. Nothing that happens to them is a big fuss, the subtext being that their not important enough to have big fusses. They exist to take care of other people’s big fusses.’
The keynote setting of Shelley Bay and the ocean ripples right through Sophie Green’s novel. This is a place I felt firmly rooted in as the book travelled from the opening to the end point. The sense of place is depicted with clarity and care by the author. The setting is what makes this novel a very special rendition to the power of female friendship and the personal sense of attainment linked to the act of ocean based swimming.
From nostalgia, love, laughter, understanding, tears, sorrow, anger, joy and relief, The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is an emotive, life affirming and uplifting tale from an author who is in touch with the realms of female friendship. I highly recommend this one, it is not a maybe read, but a must read.
***** 5 stars
The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green is published by Hachette Australia. Out now. $29.99.
To learn more about the author of The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Circle, Sophie Green, visit here.
*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is book #26 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge