Why we love it: This is a beautifully written novel, set in the Northern Territory – where people are isolated, but still find ways to connect. In this book, five women from entirely different backgrounds discover that their connection will be what saves them, delivering characters that feel like real friends.
The book opens in 1978, on a remote station near Katherine, where life can be hard, and the isolation is real. The story focuses on five women. Sybil is the matriarch of Fairvale Station, helping to run it with her husband Joe. Their first son Lachlan has left the station for the city, leaving his younger brother Ben to take his place; though this doesn’t stop Sybil missing Lachlan daily.
Ben’s wife Kate is newly arrived from England. She loves Ben, but finds station life entirely alien to her previous life and is struggling to adjust. Mother-of-three Sallyanne was born and bred in Katherine, but dreams of a different life, away from her difficult husband. Sybil’s oldest friend Rita works for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. She loves her job, but can find the remoteness overwhelming at times. Completing the group is Della, a stockhand working on a neighbouring station who has travelled from Texas looking for adventure.
So five very different women scattered throughout the Northern Territory, but Sybil comes up with a way to give them companionship and purpose – she forms a book club. The club continues to meet over the next four years, providing support and friendship.
This is an absolute gem of a novel, with the most evocative sense of place. We feel the isolation of the station, the importance and reliance on the land and the weather, how the dry and the wet seasons can literally mean life or death. We realise the practical considerations of living so remotely but also some time ago; the sheer effort involved in cooking, cleaning, travelling and living. Each year in the story starts with a list of real-life events that happened at that time, making the story much more real to the reader. The female characters are strong and independent, even more impressive when you consider the time the book is set in, and the story of trust and the power of friendship is what really shines through.
The books the book club covers are also thoroughly discussed, and add much to the story. The Thorn Birds, We of the Never Never and Snugglepot & Cuddlepie are among the books that the women read, and will inspire readers to seek them out. A definite treat for any book club group!