The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club…
Books bring them together – but friendship will transform all of their lives.
In 1978 the Northern Territory has begun to self-govern. Cyclone Tracy is a recent memory and telephones not yet a fixture on the cattle stations dominating the rugged outback. Life is hard and people are isolated. But they find ways to connect.
Sybil is the matriarch of Fairvale Station, run by her husband, Joe. Their eldest son, Lachlan, was Joe’s designated successor but he has left the Territory – for good. It is up to their second son, Ben, to take his brother’s place. But that doesn’t stop Sybil grieving the absence of her child. With her oldest friend, Rita, now living in Alice Springs and working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and Ben’s English wife, Kate, finding it difficult to adjust to life at Fairvale, Sybil comes up with a way to give them all companionship and purpose: they all love to read, and she forms a book club.
Mother-of-three Sallyanne is invited to join them. Sallyanne dreams of a life far removed from the dusty town of Katherine where she lives with her difficult husband, Mick. Completing the group is Della, who left Texas for Australia looking for adventure and work on the land.
This is a story of five different women united by one need: to overcome the vast distances of Australia’s Top End with friendship, tears, laughter, books and love.
I have absolutely adored reading The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club. True to the era and the location in which it is set, this novel is a real slice of rural social history, the spirit of Australian outback station life converging with the reality of living so remotely. With a cast of likable characters, your time at Fairvale Station will pass all too quickly, despite the hefty page count of the novel.
While I would have loved more of the book club to take centre stage throughout – particularly since this was the whole premise of the novel – this is the only thing I can fault. The story, the characters, the seasonal atmosphere, the remote location, the history; it was all so wonderfully threaded together, with not a single dull moment at all. The addition of the timeline of notable world events at the beginning of each new year/section added a lovely touch of nostalgia. I also appreciated the additional author notes at the end about each of the novels read by the ladies of Fairvale. It’s all of these little extras that often make a novel go from being a great read to a standout pick of the year.
There were key moments in every life when decisions had to be made in a second even though they had the potential to irrevocably alter everything that came after them. Sybil had experienced them before. She remembered how they felt: how the world became quiet and narrow. How each breath seemed momentous. Time changed form and sometimes it never changed back.
I love the way this story showcases the bonds of friendship, reinforcing the importance of having and maintaining relationships despite distance and time between visits. There is one terrific scene where the ladies have their book club meeting via two-way radio – just marvellous! While it would be easy to romanticise station life, Sophie Green approaches it with more authenticity. The highs and the lows, the burdens as well as the freedoms, with the end result being a story that has all the hallmarks of a future Australian classic.
Fairvale was a home and a workplace; it was also, for her, a living thing. It changed shape as people came and went, and the seasons turned. If she’d been asked to say where its heart was, where its brain resided, she could give answers but they would change too.
I really enjoyed this novel, reading it voraciously over the weekend and I’m keen to discuss it with my own book club, which fortunately, can meet face to face and far more often than the Fairvale Ladies Book Club!
The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club is book 66 in my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
Sophie Green is an author and publisher who lives in Sydney. She has written several fiction and non-fiction books, some under other names. In her spare time she writes about country music on her blog, Jolene. She fell in love with the Northern Territory the first time she visited and subsequent visits inspired the story in THE INAUGURAL MEETING OF THE FAIRVALE LADIES BOOK CLUB.