Title: The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle
Author: Sophie Green
Published: 23rd July 2019
Synopsis: The author of treasured Australian bestseller, THE INAUGURAL MEETING OF THE FAIRVALE LADIES BOOK CLUB, returns with a new novel perfect for your book club
It’s the summer of 1982. THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER is a box office hit and Paul Hogan is on the TV.
In a seaside suburb of NSW, housewife Theresa Howard 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 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 shark sightings, 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 in their friendship circle and learn that love takes many forms.
When Theresa, Marie, Elaine and Leanne meet on the beach, or through volunteering and work, they form a social group for swimming that meets every morning before they have to look after children, go to work or maintain their homes, and engage in the other activities that make up their lives. Much like her previous book, The Fairvale Ladies Book Club, Sophie Green uses a hobby to help her characters form bonds of friendship, and along the way, they grow and adapt to their new lives, and become like family, willing to do anything to help each other – and eventually, they will, when something terrible happens to one of them.
Each woman has her own past, and secrets that they need to grapple with – at first alone, but slowly, with the help of the others. Theresa struggles with a husband who demands so much of her at home yet doesn’t like that his needs aren’t always met before anyone else. He doesn’t improve much throughout the novel – but Theresa does, and her growth is key here. Whilst Andrew is pretty much a jerk, compared to Elaine’s husband James, who is always there for her, listens to her and helps her. He is supportive, much like the male characters who enter Marie and Leanne’s lives later. Each are individual though.
James and Andrew are shown as they are to illustrate the differences in how people react to family situations and pressures placed on their wives, and the strain various aspects of a married life can have. Overall though, the male characters play a background role to the story, whether it is supporting their spouse or partner, or not as it was in Andrew’s case. Instead, the focus on female friendship is front of the narrative, and this makes it a novel that can be enjoyed by many readers.
The friendship is formed through their shared interest in swimming, and their desires to form connections outside of their everyday lives, to have something just for them. The novel also reflects the generational differences in dealing with marriage, death and family. For Marie, who is widowed, she dedicates her time to her daughter, but also to Theresa’s children when Theresa needs help. it shows Leanne working and independent, an independence that grows over the novel, and finally, Elaine, whose life has been turned upside down when she had to move to Australia from England, leave her family and sell her business, and the dilemma of loving her husband but missing her sons, but her determination to make it work for her husband, James. James is someone who is there for his wife, though, and tries to help her and understand what she is going through, which makes the moments he is present refreshing and enjoyable, when compared with the moments Andrew is around, and I could feel Theresa’s anger at him.
The chapters alternate between each woman as it moves throughout the mid-eighties, when people had different expectations of how things would go, but in third person. We see the world through each woman’s eyes and how the past and present affect them and lead them to making certain decisions that ultimately have a variety of consequences – this enriches the narrative and keeps it engaging.
This was a very touching story about friendship and family, and what friendship means for Theresa, Elaine, Marie and Leanne, and how their connections help them through tough times in their lives, something different for each of them, and how these struggles bring them together in ways they never imagined. An enjoyable read for many, and something that emphasises female friendship is always a good thing.