The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village…
About the Book:
Joanna Nell’s life-affirming debut is a moving, funny, heart-warming tale of love and community in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Grace and Frankie.
The life of 79-year-old pensioner PEGGY SMART is as beige as the decor in her retirement village. Her week revolves around aqua aerobics and appointments with her doctor. Following a very minor traffic accident, things have turned frosty with her grown-up children and she is afraid they are trying to take away her independence.
The highlight of Peggy’s day is watching her neighbour Brian head out for his morning swim. She dreams of inviting the handsome widower – treasurer of the Residents’ Committee and one of the few eligible men in the village – to an intimate dinner. But why would an educated man like Brian, a chartered accountant no less, look twice at Peggy? As a woman of a certain age, she fears she has become invisible, even to men in their eighties.
But a chance encounter with an old school friend she hasn’t seen in five decades – the glamorous fashionista ANGIE VALENTINE – sets Peggy on an unexpected journey of self-discovery.
‘With one wrist in plaster, it was difficult for Peggy to hold the Women’s Weekly. It was an old issue but if she had read any of the articles before, she couldn’t remember them and consumed the glossy pages with fresh eyes. She consoled herself with the thought that if she were going senile, she’d save herself a fortune in magazines.’
What a fabulous novel The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village is! In many ways it reminded me of the themes and humour of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a movie that I enjoyed immensely. Joanna Nell has created a truly memorable character in Peggy Smart. Full of wit and fiercely independent, age has made her vulnerable, along with her failing health. She lives in fear of being moved by her children out of the retirement village and into a nursing home. An accident that ends in a broken wrist becomes a catalyst for change in Peggy’s life, and it’s this new direction, and the connections that it brings to Peggy, that provide the focus for this novel.
Joanna Nell really knows how to write in character. While the novel is entirely told from Peggy’s perspective, there are so many opportunities for us to see the individualism Joanna has bestowed onto all of her other characters. She’s also got a real knack at forging connections and I found the dialogue between characters, interspersed with Peggy’s reflections and introspection, absolutely priceless. It’s not all non-stop humour though. These characters are in their 70s and 80s, and they’ve all lived and loved and lost throughout the years. Each are facing health issues and contemplating death – unavoidable really, when you live in a retirement village and a new neighbour only comes because the old one has either died or been moved to a nursing home, which according to Peggy, is the last stop before death and to be avoided at all cost (my grandmother shared this view). The friendships nurtured between the characters was delightful, and always entertaining, particularly when they got up to mischief.
‘Friends are precious things. We collect them over our lifetime, different friends for different stages of our lives. Childhood, family friends, work colleagues, friends with similar interests or hobbies. Some are chance encounters, others seem destined to cross our paths. Over the years, it is inevitable that many will fall by the way. Others will come in and out of lives, and though we may not see each other for years, when we meet again it is as though we have never been apart. In that respect, friends are rather like a dose of herpes.’
Seeing life through Peggy’s gaze has given me pause to reflect on the many ways in which we might inadvertently patronise older people. I was quite frustrated, and even on occasion outraged, by Peggy’s adult children. And they weren’t even that bad, motivated by love for their mother and a need to keep her safe. I could see myself doing similar things to what they did, but once you have the opportunity to see it from Peggy’s perspective, it’s enough to make you aware of how incredibly frustrating it must be to have younger people assume you are an imbecilic invalid just because you’re older. Likewise, the difficulty in adjusting to the role reversal between parent and child. To be the cared for, instead of the care giver, would be a constant pebble in your shoe. I felt Joanna wove these frustrations and concerns into Peggy’s story well, demonstrating the clash these feelings had with her independence, while also being tempered by the reality of her health and capabilities.
The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village is a novel I highly recommend and Joanna Nell is an author to look out for. She hits the right balance with her words, leaving no room for anything but pure enjoyment. I can see this novel as a gift under many Christmas trees this festive season.
Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing me with a copy of The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village for review.
About the Author:
Joanna Nell was born in the UK and studied medicine at Cambridge and Oxford universities. Her short fiction has won multiple awards and has been published in various journals and literary anthologies. As a GP with a passion for women’s health and care of the elderly, Joanna is drawn to writing character-driven stories for women in their prime, creating young-at-heart characters who are not afraid to break the rules and defy society’s expectations of ageing. Joanna lives on Sydney’s Northern Beaches with her husband and two teenage children.
The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village
Published by Hachette Australia
Released on 25th September 2018