It’s 1982 in Australia. The Man from Snowy River is a box office hit and Paul Hogan is on the TV.
In a seaside suburb, housewife Theresa takes up swimming. She wants to get fit; she also wants a few precious minutes to herself. So at sunrise each day she strikes out past the waves.
From the same beach, the widowed Marie swims. With her husband gone, bathing is the one constant in her new life.
After finding herself in a desperate situation, 25-year-old Leanne only has herself to rely on. She became a nurse to help others, even as she resists help herself.
Elaine has recently moved from England. Far from home and without her adult sons, her closest friend is a gin bottle.
In the waters of Shelly Bay, these four women find each other. They will survive bluebottle stings and heartbreak; they will laugh so hard they swallow water, and they will plunge their tears into the ocean’s salt. They will find solace and companionship, and learn that love takes many forms. Most of all, they will cherish their friendship, each and every day.
The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is the latest novel from Australian author Sophie Green, this time introducing us to a fantastic group of women who bond over their love of the water.
The book is set in 1980s NSW, but there is so much about these women and their lives that can be understood by readers who may not have memories of the 1980s. These four women confront loss, grief, relationships, family, adultery, friendships, addictions, and mental health. Sophie Green explores these issues with sensitivity and compassion. You don’t need to live in a certain time period to understand these things — all readers will be able to understand or relate to a least a couple of the themes present in the book, and the discussions that are had between the women.
Swimming brings these four women together at a time when they’re all in need of friends. Theresa is married to a philandering, arrogant man and takes on the majority of the household responsibilities. Andrew doesn’t help out with the two kids, and Theresa is at a loss.
Marie is still mourning the death of her husband five years ago, and her best friend has recently moved quite some distance away — Marie is lonely.
Leanne recently moved to Shelly Bay and is a paediatric nurse at the local hospital. But, she finds it hard to connect with people. She’s distanced from her parents and her family, and she has quite a few skeletons in her closet that she struggles to talk about. She certainly struggles connecting with men, and hasn’t ever had a boyfriend.
Elaine is an alcoholic whose husband works all the time. She’s new to the country — having recently moved here from England — and she’s missing her sons. She turns to the bottle to comfort her loneliness.
“She really doesn’t want to play with them again, but she hasn’t managed to find another group activity that suits her, and if she doesn’t play tennis she will have absolutely no one to talk to apart from James, who works all day and half the night.”
Sophie Green is a really skilled writer, bringing these women to life and making the reader fall in love with each of them. The book switches POV between the four women, and despite the fact these women are all different ages and at different stages in their lives and their careers, their voices and stories are all so unique that you never grow tired of the plot, or of the writing.
Friendship is the dominant theme in the book, and is executed incredibly well. Women in particular will be able to relate to the close connections that these women form with each other over the course of the novel. The four women become a support network for each other, helping the others overcome the emotional and physical hurdles that they’re facing in their lives.
“Today is the day. After her lessons, and Matt’s reassurances that her freestyle is ‘coming along nicely’, Leanne is ready to swim in the ocean. With Theresa and her friends.”
The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle shows us that we shouldn’t bury our pain or hide our struggles — we should learn to trust in others, and confront what it is that’s causing our pain. The book also highlights the importance of having quality friends, and that it’s never too late to build friendships and relationships with others.
Theresa, Marie, Leanne and Elaine share a lot of heartache in the book, but they also share a lot of laughs and tender moments. They grow over the course of the novel — not just their relationships with others, but their relationships with themselves.
“They’re always like this on the nights when Andrew doesn’t arrive home in time for dinner. They never say anything about him not being there, yet they cling harder to her. They want all of her time, and they’ll fight sleep to get it.”
The setting of the novel is captured really strongly in the pages, and readers will easily be able to imagine the picturesque Shelly Bay location — even if they’ve never been to Sydney or Shelly Bay.
Sophie Green’s latest novel is just as satisfying as The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club — readers who like historical fiction, romance, and family sagas will enjoy this book.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle
Hachette Book Publishers