Title: The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club
Author: Sophie Green
Set in the isolation of the vast, sparsely populated Northern Territory, in a land of cattle stations and stockmen during 1978-1981, this novel harks back to an even earlier Australia, with faint echoes of Kings in Grass Castles.
Just as Australia’s pioneer women suffered the trials of isolation, the women of the small towns and cattle stations in Australia’s north continue this tradition today on the fringes of a bolder civilization.
Sybil, the lady of the big house at Fairvale Station, unites a group of displaced women through a book club. Sybil hails from Sydney, having followed the love of her life to his cattle station; her newbee daughter-in-law Kate left England to follow Sybil’s son Ben to Fairvale; Sybil’s best friend Rita, also from Sydney, is based about 1,000 kilometres away (a hop, skip and a jump in Territory terms) having escaped her dead-end life in Sydney for the Royal Flying Doctor Service; Della has escaped the semi-enslavement of her family ranch in Texas to work on the neighbouring Ghost River station; and Sally Anne, a native Territorian in Katherine, is escaping a bad marriage.
The endless plains and open skies magnify the physical and emotional displacement of these women. They have no family support networks, no childhood friendship groups, and the men are either physically or emotionally absent. It examines the power of book clubs to bind women through the good times and the bad. It also explores what happens when wise women support each other and the resulting empowerment of each individual.
Romance abounds in this novel but it is not the bodice-ripping, sweep-you-of-your feet kind of romance. The women are strong enough in their own right to endure a life largely alone. None need a man to feel complete, and they gain their sustenance from their friends and their own powerful selves.
This is a gentle, insightful novel about strong women, female friendships, romantic relationships and family dynamics. Set in a landscape that dwarfs these perennial human themes, it reminds us that love and friendship have the power to make every life special and unique. An enjoyable read.