Lyn Potter reviews ‘The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club’


9780733636561The cold blustery weather last weekend was the best excuse to stay inside and curl up in an armchair with The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club.

Sophie Green’s love of Australia’s Northern Territory and its rugged dramatic landscape inspired her to imagine the lives of women who live there and to write The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club.

They held their meetings at a cattle station. The five members spanned two generations. Sybil, the matriarch of Fairvale Station started it for her newly married daughter in law Kate. Kate was brought up in a small English village and was having to adjust to a completely different way of life far away from friends and family. Rita was Sybil’s oldest friend. They had first met many years ago they did their nursing training in Sydney. Della had left her home in Texas wanting an adventure and found a job at Ghost River, a neighbouring station. Sallyanne was a young Mum with three children and an abusive husband. She loved books because they allowed her to exist in different worlds, far from the dusty town she had grown up in.

There are only two seasons in the Northern Territory, the wet and the dry.  When arranging their meetings the possibility of extreme weather conditions always had to be taken into account.

Some had to travel very long distances to get there. Della had to be driven from Ghost River to Fairvale by a stockman who was familiar with the rough unsealed roads. And Rita, who worked for the Flying Doctor’s service had to fly in from Alice Springs.

But it was worth their effort as book club was the best antidote to feeling lonely and isolated. Over cups of tea, some delicious home baking and a good book, old friendships were renewed and new ones forged.

At the beginning of the story Sybil’s eldest son Lachlan who had always been a difficult lad, had left home without telling his parents his whereabouts. She was distraught that she couldn’t reach him. As the book progresses each other book club member also has to deal with a major life event but they were there to support each other.

The Fairvale Ladies Book Club met from 1978-1981. To provide some historical context there is a list of significant world events at the beginning of each year. That brought back the memories for me! These were the years when John Lennon was assassinated in New York City, The Empire Strikes Back was released and Bob Marley died.

But it is more than likely that some of these world events passed these women by as telephone lines were not yet a fixture on cattle stations, they might not see a newspaper for weeks, and they didn’t have TV or the Internet. The news that Margaret Thatcher had been elected as Britain’s first female PM did eventually come to their attention and this engendered a lively discussion at book club.

The book chosen for their first book club meeting was Colleen McCullough’s Thorn Birds. An excellent choice as it is set in another outback part of Australia so they could all relate to it. I had read it but I was unfamiliar with the books by Australian authors from the seventies or before which they chose subsequently. It has fuelled my interest in reading some more Australian literature. Australia is just over the ditch but most of the books I have read are from elsewhere.

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club was a very enjoyable read. Being an armchair traveller to the Northern Territory was the next best thing to actually going there!

I also belong to a great book club so I felt a connection with these outback women.  But we meet in the suburbs so our lives are worlds apart! Their stories filled me with admiration for their strength and endurance.

At the end of the book there are some discussion starters. These are a really good idea especially if you are starting out in a book club and are not quite sure how to spark a discussion.

Title: The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club. Author: Sophie Green Publisher: Hachette New Zealand RRP $34.99

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club is one of Hachette’s recommended Reading Group titles for you in August.
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Review by Lyn Potter. Read more by Lyn here.