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Book DetailsISBN: 9780733642906
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Book Review: The Tea Ladies of St Jude's Hospital by Joanna Nell - Reviewed by CloggieA (08 Aug 2021)
5 stars The Tea Ladies Of St Jude’s Hospital is the fourth novel by best-selling Australian author, Joanna Nell. Meet the staff of the Marjorie Marshall Memorial Cafeteria in the foyer of St Jude’s Hospital, volunteers all: Hilary Halliday, in her mid-seventies, manageress for ten years; Joy, also in her seventies, nearing the end of her first months’ probation; seventeen-year-old Chloe Foster-Pearson, their newest recruit, fulfilling a requirement for her Duke of Edinburgh gold medal.
Distracted by her currently chaotic personal life, Hilary has missed a few important emails from General Manager Dave Rawlinson concerning the hospital’s renovations, so none of them has any idea of what’s about to happen.
Virtually an institution in itself, the Marjorie Marshall has been serving refreshments to appreciative staff, patients and visitors at St Jude’s for some fifty years and is currently raising funds for a sea-life mural for the Children’s Ward. Their fare is basic: plain and simple; so when a branch of wholefood café chain, Platter opens in the foyer, with its black-T-shirted, blonde-ponytailed clones and its myriad of food and drink choices, Hilary immediately understands the threat it poses.
Despite Hilary’s tendency to micro-manage and her previous rejection of suggestions for improvement, with the café’s viability endangered, Joy and Chloe are wholeheartedly supportive of a makeover, contributing time and talent and furniture. But will it be enough? Because there’s that email about Phase 2 of the renovations that Hilary has neglected to open…
Nell’s depiction of the hospital foyer almost like a little village will resonate with hospital regulars: the passing parade of daily life here is presented from three different perspectives. As always, her characters have depth and appeal and the reader quickly invests in their fates, even the prickly ones.
She gives them insightful observations and wise words: “With the passing years, the list of things Joy could do was shrinking. Listening was the one thing that people became better at as they aged, she realised.”
Young Chloe labours under the heavy weight of expectations: those of her family, and of everyone to whom she is introduced as the progeny of consultant surgeon parents, all assuming she wants to be a doctor. The only exception is her best friend since kindergarten, Sam, who understands and enthusiastically encourages her artistic aspirations. Working with these two older, perceptive women helps her distil what is important.
Joy, ever cheerful in dress and manner, serves up tea with sympathy and comfort so it’s surprising to learn she has only recently dragged herself up out of a lengthy depression. But she’s still working up the courage to carry out the simple task she needs to complete on her beloved husband Len’s behalf.
For Hilary, her position as manageress has afforded her status with the well-off wives of her (soon-to-be-ex) husband’s associates, but her recent change in fortunes is compounded when she is forced to live with her bossy, cranky older sister, Nancy. She is understandably afraid that her raison d’etre might be lost.
Once again, Nell has her finger on the pulse when it comes to seniors, touching on many issues that affect the elderly: loneliness, poverty, malnutrition, denial in grief, the need for a sense of purpose, and the fear of being irrelevant or invisible. She addresses these topics with sensitivity and humour, giving the reader laughter and lumps-in-the-throat in equal measure. The clever chapter headings are a bonus. A delightful read! This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Hachette Australia.
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