The summer of 1978… Sybil lives in the harsh centre of the Northern Territory where the weather can be trying for anyone and there’s not much of anything to keep a body entertained. Between keeping the books, running the household and making sure a hot meal is served up on the table for her hard-working farmer husband at the end of another long day, Sybil doesn’t find much time for anything else. Life as a country matriarch is not for the fainthearted.
A lovingly-cared-for house garden is her main form of solace to break up the loneliness and hardships that come from living so far from anyone and she labours hard and long to ensure her beloved plants survive through another dry season. Gardening has been her refuge when the going gets tough.
Sybil’s other passion is reading, although there’s not much time for those sorts of simple pleasures out here in the back o’ beyond. That is until she has an idea…
Sallyanne is the mother of three small children and hails from Katherine — a Northern Territory town smack bang in the middle of the red outback. Mick, her husband, is a loud-mouthed drunk with a short temper. Like Sybil, Sallyanne is an avid reader with books being her favourite escape from this dry dusty town she calls home — and life with Mick. It’s not surprising when these two meet at a local CWA meeting they form an instant rapport.
Kate is an English rose – or she used to be until migrating to Australia after falling madly in love with Ben. He could easily be mistaken for Adonis with his thick thatch of dark hair and sculptured body. Ben helps to run Fairvale for his parents, Sybil and Joe. Since arriving, Kate’s skin has become so dry she feels like it’s clogged with the dirt that seeps into every pore. The best part of this new life is seeing the way Ben looks at her at the end of another hard day’s work and it soon blows all those other frustrations away. She’s desperate to have a baby but helping Ruby in the camp kitchen provides a way to fill some of the lonely hours out here in The Never Never.
Della is a Texas gal who loves horses — well most of them unless it’s Arthur, a cantankerous old part-Clydesdale she’s been assigned to ride at Ghost River Station, the cattle property where she works as a station hand. After meeting a good-looking fella at Fairvale, Australia isn’t such a bad place to call home.
Then there’s Rita, Sybil’s best friend and a hardworking nurse with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. She wings her way around the outback in a single engine contraption with a team of dedicated professionals. The women first met in Sydney, over the cot of a premature baby who sadly didn’t make it thirty years earlier. They clicked instantly and friendship was their greatest lifeline in the harshness of outback life.
Sybil sees a need for women living in this vast area to have a reason to get together and so she holds The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club inviting the other four to join her over what they have most in common. The first book of choice is the one currently selling like hot cakes — Colleen McCulloch’s thick tome ‘The Thorn Birds’. After all, who else can relate to Meggie and Fi, a mother and daughter duo living on a massive sheep station in the middle of the Aussie outback, more than these five?
Fairvale may be a working cattle property but it also has a town feel with all the happenings and goings on of its many inhabitants as time passes on.
The writing is fluid and easy to absorb, especially the variety of relationships throughout the storyline and their subsequent dramas and triumphs. Sophie Green’s beautiful mingling of the book club members’ lives down through the years is a testament to her clever storytelling ways. Fairvale is far more than a story about a book club, though that is the perfect vehicle to bring these various characters together. She provides vivid descriptions of both the triumphs and hardships of life in the outback so readers can empathise with all the joys and heartaches experienced by each one.
I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful novel and am happy to recommend it and look forward to reading her next paper baby.
The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green (published by Hachette Australia) is available now from Dymocks. Click here to learn more.