I can never resist books which are set in bookshops or libraries or feature book groups – in other words, any books about people who love reading. I knew that The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club would be just my kind of book and I was right. I absolutely loved it.
The Book Club consists of five women who live in the harsh Northern Territory of Australia. The Territory being what it is, they’re not exactly next door neighbours but live large distances from each other. Their book club only take place when it’s the Dry Season as when it’s The Wet, much of the area is cut off by rain-swollen creeks and flooded roads. Much of the travelling takes place by plane, such as the large distances involved. I thought the author described her setting perfectly, giving me a real sense of the vastness of the outback, the vivid colours of the earth, sky and vegetation and the difficulty of surviving in such an unforgiving landscape.
The women were at the heart of the story and from their different viewpoints we come to understand all their joys, sorrows, hopes and disappointments. Sybil, who I think was my favourite character, could be described as the matriarch of the group. Along with her husband, Jim, she runs the vast Fairvale Station. She has a new daughter-in-law, Kate, the English girl her son Ben met and married while on a trip to the UK and who is struggling to adapt to a very different life. Sybil’s oldest friend Rita is someone she has known from her nursing days, who now lives in Alice Springs and works for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Della is a Texan who works on a nearby cattle ranch, a most unusual profession for a women in the 1970s when the story is set. Finally, there is Sallyanne who lives in town with her increasingly belligerent husband and their three young children and dreams of escaping her dull life. These very different women bring different experiences and different voices to the story. Yet for all their differences, they are brought together through their love of books. Through their book club meetings, they form strong bonds of friendship and become a support system for each other throughout everything that happens. Since the book is set in the 70s, expectations of a woman’s role was rather different from today and it was interesting to read how the five friends either kicked against convention, were happy to accept it or quietly created their own ways of dealing with those expectations. With a list of significant world events at the beginning of different sections of the book, events which often then featured in the story to one extent or another, the author gave her book a firm sense of the times as well as jogging a few memories for me.
I thought the books the women chose to read were rather appropriate for the story. Their first book was the classic Australian saga The Thorn Birds and another was A Woman of Substance. Both these books, like this one, were sweeping sagas with strong women at their heart. Some of the things the women said about their book choices summed up this book too I felt. In particular when Rita talks about The Harp in the South, she describes it as being a book “about hardship and love and surviving both,” while Sybil describes A Woman of Substance as being “a sweeping saga of a woman……. going onto glory, despite challenges and dangers and whatever else you can imagine.” The ladies of the Fairvale Book Club certainly experience all kinds of hardship and challenges, danger and love and more than survive them all.
The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club was one of those books I was completely caught up in. I became immersed in the lives of these women while I was reading and I really didn’t want to have to bid them farewell when the book ended. Like several of the books the ladies chose to read, it’s a glorious epic of a book, beautifully written and one I highly recommend. If you happen to be in a book group, the author has helpfully included details of the book mentioned in the story along with suggested book group discussion questions.
My thanks to the publishers Sphere for my copy of this book via Netgalley. It is published today in trade paperback and e-book formats. You can order a copy online here: Fairvale Ladies
From the back of the book
In 1978 in Australia’s Northern Territory, life is hard and people are isolated. Telephones are not yet a common fixture. But five women find a way to connect.
Sybil, the matriarch of Fairvale Station, misses her eldest son and is looking for a distraction, while Kate, Sybil’s daughter-in-law, is thousands of miles away from home and finding it difficult to adjust to life at Fairvale.
Sallyanne, mother of three, dreams of a life far removed from the dusty town where she lives with her difficult husband.
Rita, Sybil’s oldest friend, is living far away in Alice Springs and working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
And Della, who left Texas for Australia looking for adventure and work on the land, needs some purpose in her life.
Sybil comes up with a way to give them all companionship: they all love to read, and she starts a book club. As these five women bond over their love of books, they form friendships that will last a lifetime.
Warm-hearted, comforting and richly told, this Australian bestseller is the perfect feel-good read for book lovers everywhere.
*Includes reading group questions and a note from the author*