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Book DetailsISBN: 9780733641169
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Book Review: The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green - Reviewed by CloggieA (21 Jul 2019)
“In the past she's never had reason to contemplate the idea that families aren't necessarily made from blood. Now she knows that the family you create, voluntarily, can bring joy instead of pain, and support and love and strength.”
The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is the second novel by Australian publisher and author, Sophie Green. Even if her husband has mentioned her weight more that once recently, that’s absolutely not the reason that Theresa Howard is planning a daily ocean swim. Improved fitness would be a welcome side-effect, but the real attraction of a sunrise swim at Shelly Bay is the chance of time to herself in her constantly busy day.
Marie has been swimming at sunrise in Shelly Bay for most of her life. But since Norm died and her best friend Gwen moved to a Retirement Village some distance away, it’s just her and her dog, Charlie Brown, in the sandstone cottage. And Marie’s not sure for how much longer she can manage that…
Originally from Devon, Elaine Schaeffer has accompanied her Australian husband (a heart surgeon, no less!) back to Australia. His demanding profession has James out until late, and the isolation Elaine feels is understandable: she has left behind her successful interior decorating business and the status that gave her, her adult sons, her ageing parents and her friends. She knows her increasing reliance on gin and tonic is not the answer but, after an earlier rejection at tennis, is hesitant to join the ladies swimming in Shelly Bay every sunrise.
Leanne loves her job on the paediatric ward at the Northern Hospital. Making her young patients feel safe and comfortable and cared for is all she wants to do. She doesn’t mind living alone in a tiny flat, having decided years before that trusting adults is fraught with danger. But the women in Shelly Bay are difficult to resist.
Whether for the sake of convenience, or by invitation, these four very different women eventually find themselves in the water together. As swimmers, some are experienced, strong and confident; others, novices or still a bit tentative; but soon it doesn't matter. Soon, it's a routine they hate to miss.
“They part each day knowing that they can take the morning with them, and tomorrow they'll be here again to repeat the actions but have a different experience. Each day is precious, new. Each morning is alive with vigour and a certain rapture.” As they negotiate life’s challenges, and there are several, they discover that these women provide more than company.
Green easily captures the feel of an Australian seaside suburb in the 1980s: the current affairs, dialogue and community attitudes are all redolent of the era. Green’s protagonists are so very relatable: human for all their flaws and filled with good intentions: “She walks slowly so that Elaine can accompany Marie into the surf, her earlier disappointment put aside. It's been lovely - a privilege - having Marie to herself but she's really too special to hoard.” And while her male characters may not be perfect, we all need a Matt or a James or a Gus in our lives, and we'd all like to throttle an Andrew or Trev or at least read them the riot act.
Green forces these women to deal with more than just bluebottles, jellyfish, seaweed and dumpers: if a neglected garden, ageing and a car accident seem minor, then grief, loneliness, infidelity, alcoholism, first love, past traumas, family reconciliation, mature-age love, cancer and surgery are certainly less so. They share lots of laughter, but also tears. Above all, though, these four women share the deep love that comes from abiding friendship.
Green has a marvellous turn-of-phrase, and it’s difficult to resist including many quotes: “He sees her problems through the prism of his experience” and “It's what they're used to, after all: being alone together in the water, each woman inside her own head. The comfort of wordless company that understands you implicitly” and “She has, on occasion, wondered if Gerard's not really an alcoholic but rather an actor paid to run these meetings. He seems to know just which expressions to use to get the outcome he wants” are examples.
It’s probably a close thing, but Green’s latest novel is even better than The Fairvale Ladies. Moving, heart-warming and uplifting, this is another brilliant read. This unbiased review is from a copy provided by Hachette Australia.
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