Title: The Wattle Island Book Club
Author: Sandie Docker
Publisher: Penguin/Michael Joseph
Published: 31st August 2021
Synopsis: From the best-selling author of The Banksia Bay Beach Shack comes a moving and heart-warming story about finding a new lease on life. Spanning over seventy years, we follow the lives of Anne and Grace in a poignant journey through love, grief, and hope on a cosy island, while also unravelling the mystery behind the town’s historic book club. Why did the book club suddenly end? And why is the town staying silent about it? A moving and heart-warming story about taking risks and finding a new lease on life, by the bestselling author of The Banksia Bay Beach Shack.
Is it ever too late to rewrite your own story?
In 1950, teenager Anne flees Wattle Island for the big city, where she learns that establishing the life, she’s always dreamed of isn’t as easy as she thought. When a secret she’s been keeping is discovered, she has no choice but to retreat home and live a quiet life. But when tragedy strikes, establishing the Wattle Island book club is the only thing that offers her solace.
In 2018, spirited librarian Grace has been writing bucket lists since she was a child and is ticking off as many challenges as she can now that life has handed her a hefty dose of perspective. Heading to Wattle Island on one of her adventures, she is determined to uncover a long-held mystery surrounding the town’s historic book club, unlocking a buried truth that has been trapped between the dusty pages of secrecy for years.
All too aware of how fragile life is, Anne and Grace must come together to help the residents of Wattle Island find the bravery to move beyond the trauma that tore the book club apart. Budding relationships offer new hope, along with a library project for the town’s future – but it will take more than a few lively literary debates to break the silence and heal the past.
Welcome to the Wattle Island Book Club, where some chapters may end, but others are just beginning…
Grace, a librarian, is determined to make the most out of life before she dies. She’s spent her life writing bucket lists, and now, they seem to be more important than ever. She helps runs the book clubs in her local library, and when a request comes from a faraway place called Wattle Island, Grace begins a correspondence relationship with Anne, an elderly woman determined to restart the book club in her home. Soon, Grace has moved to Wattle Island, where she meets Anne, her grandson, Sam and many colourful and diverse characters who give Wattle Island its life and flavour. Yet they all have their secrets – including why the book club ended. Grace seems determined to help Anne heal the wounds of the town, and in doing so, she will help a community to heal, and realise a dream in the process.
Told in alternating chapters – Grace and Anne – The Wattle Island Book Club spans seventy years – from the end of the war, where an orphaned Anne is sent to a remote island, much like Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables, and 2018, where Grace’s life and fate become entwined with Anne Sato. The novel is an ode to books, an homage to the healing power of books and book clubs and speaks to what books mean to us – especially those that have made a big impact on us as children. For Anne, this book is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, and Anne speaks of kindred spirits just as Anne Shirley – her namesake does.
But there is more to the story than this. Using beautiful subtlety, Sandie explores post-partum depression and issues surrounding mental health, and the impact this can have on the individual and those around them – and what they might be driven to when things get bad. What might drive someone to take their own life. This aspect is done in a gentle yet realistic way that allows readers to understand it in their own way. It touches on the invisibility that many of us feel based on age, gender, or disability – and how this can impact how we respond to the world, mostly through Anne and Grace, but also, through Tadashi, we see how racism impacted his life, and how small acts of kindness and acceptance meant so much to him, and I found that he was one of my favourite characters.
The prejudice shown allows readers to see what people thought and went through, and that people can change – that given the chance, something can change. Sandie has done all of this eloquently, and in a bittersweet and heartbreaking way that makes this book special. It’s more than a love story – it’s a story about life, books, love, and everything that makes it messy and worth living. For me, the delight that the characters took in books and the book club, and in their beautiful friendships shone through, allowing these themes – women’s friendship between generations, the representation of illness and what it means for everyone involved – carers, those being cared for and the doctors, and the role our generational differences play in how our dreams play out. The contrast of Anne and Grace – one just starting to live, and one, supposedly, at the end of her life, was touching and tugged on the heartstrings throughout the novel.
The diverse cast of characters created an interesting atmosphere – suggesting that these people could be anyone we know, in any place in Australia, and I loved that it was pre-COVID – I know I say this in many reviews, but there was something comforting in reading about a pre-pandemic world, and a world where friendships are the powerful and driving factor in the story – and yes, there is a romance in this book, and it is very well-written – it evolves naturally for the characters, which was very nice, and I liked that whilst it was part of the story, it was not the overall goal – the meat of the story was about the book club and library, and the delightful joy that books bring a small community and what they mean to so many people. This was my first Sandie Docker book, and I found the writing so engaging and beautiful that I read it in one day.
At times, this book was light-hearted, but there was always a sense of gravitas about it – as though the reader knows that there will be a good outcome for some but not for all – it is just a matter of when we find out what has happened and what is to come – what the Big Event is, so to speak – whether part of the narrative or part of the backstory. The exploration of illness and mental health was delved into sensitively, and speaks to a sense of unease for some when talking about this, and hopefully, books like this can open up dialogues and discussions, and allow people to speak about the many, many issues and topics brought up in this book.
Another great Aussie book!