Reviewed by Angela Marie
“Elaine’s tennis ladies had their own idea of a class system …Humans strive to sort themselves into strata wherever they find themselves – even, or perhaps especially, in a former penal colony. The only group where she hasn’t found that is in her little swimming circle…They’re all equals in the water: each of them wanting to be out there, feeling the embrace of the ocean, the power of achievement, the sun on their faces as they dry off afterwards.”
As we read on, we learn more of the deep and personal pains of our swimming circle. Dig a bit deeper and we learn the secrets that are held so close that they do not want to name them and reopen the scars. But read on and see the evolution of true friendship, arising from practical purposes, through the beginnings of trust, to a deep, loyal and fierce protectiveness. As in real life, our protagonists face the challenges that they never assumed would happen to them or their loved ones. They face the fluidity and the ebb and flow of life. This is echoed within the story by the structured changing of the seasons and the heralding of spring. A call to optimism and to finding joy even in the smallest of things.
Welcome to Shelly Bay. Captured within the environs of Sydney, yet a world away from the frenetic pace of big city existence. Welcome to the blending of old and new, in housing and development, and social circles, and the shadows that stick to us and cannot be jumped away from. Welcome to the Australia of 1982 to 1985, and attitudes that are perhaps not so removed from now.
THE SHELLY BAY LADIES SWIMMING CIRCLE, and the circle itself, evolves slowly and purposefully, each protagonist developing and revealing aspects of character initially realised by the reader alone. Meet the widowed sage, Marie, yearning for the company of her deceased husband and understanding that relationships do not have to be perfect to be perfect. Swimming is her driving passion and saviour, and she plunges through the breakers every morning at dawn. This ritual endows her with the strength to be herself. Meet Theresa, housewife and mother of two young children, craving and claiming back time to be herself. Theresa volunteers at the local hospital and, with a mission to get fit, returns to her love of swimming. Meet Leanne, a nurse, isolated by choice and circumstance, challenging herself to achieve something she did not have the opportunity to learn. And our final circle member, Elaine, an English woman marooned on this great island, far from home and children, and keeping company with the bottle. A circle with members years apart in age and life’s experiences. A group with seemingly few common denominators save swimming.
THE SHELLY BAY LADIES SWIMMING CIRCLE is about the evolution of friendship and, essentially, the evolution of self. Why we do and what we do. It’s about the changes we make to accommodate the needs of others in our lives, be they friend, family, acquaintance. It’s about assessing those choices and acting on this. The ability to understand that we can’t change what has already come to pass but we can change our response to it and understand ourselves more deeply. It’s a reminder about the layers we all wear and how we cannot presume to know others unless we are truly connected and worthy. And then there’s no guarantee.
We are reminded that we may be unfairly hard on ourselves, and that even seemingly small adjustments can be monumental and life changing. That there is pain in the suppression of feelings and the awkwardness of re-emergence. There is encouragement to see distractions for what they are and to take opportunities when they are presented.
The cast of supporting characters represent the multifaceted community we know. We meet Theresa’s disconnected husband, Andrew, and her ciggie-smoking, card-playing Nonna. We meet Marie’s wise Father Paul, the encouraging swim coach, Matt, James, Elaine’s supportive doctor husband, Gus the handsome gardener and more. Who will help who, and how? How will all these pieces fit into the puzzle? Is there such a thing as happy ever after?
Sophie Green’s tale is a good read. It reaffirms that true friendship is precious. It will not cause you to reach for your dictionary, but it may cause you to reach inside and take some moments to ponder.
Friendship resonates within the writings of author Sophie Green. Her much-lauded novel, The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club, draws on the building of bonds and was shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards for General Fiction Book of the Year 2018. She is a prolific and versatile writer, publishing many adult content ebooks and non-fiction works, and writing about country music on her blog, Jolene.
Sophie Green lives in Sydney. Among her life experiences she has been a bookseller and a yoga teacher, completed a law degree and now works in publishing in addition to writing. She has a self-confessed love of the Northern Territory, basing her fictitious book club there. This reviewer feels that there will be many more interesting tales to come.
THE SHELLY BAY LADIES SWIMMING CIRCLE
By Sophie Green
ISBN 978 0 7336 4116 9
pp 428; PB $29.99; Ebook $12.99