The Women and the Girls…
About the Book:
A kind of Monkey Grip meets ‘Nine to Five’, The Women and The Girls explores the price – and the rewards – of family and friendship in the Age of Aquarius – and at the dawning of the Age of Divorce.
Three friends. Three marriages left behind. Life begins in earnest.
It’s 1977, and warm, bohemian Libby – stay-at-home mother, genius entertainer and gifted cook – is lonely. When she meets Carol, who has recently emigrated from London with her controlling husband and is feeling adrift, and Anna, who loves her career but not her marriage, the women form an unexpected bond.
Their husbands aren’t happy about it, and neither are their daughters.
Set against a backdrop of inner-city grunge and 70s glamour, far-out parties and ABBA songs, The Women and The Girls is a funny, questioning and moving novel about love, friendship, work, family, and freedom.
Well this was a treat! I haven’t read a whole lot of Australian fiction set in the 1970s, which is a real shame because it was a period of such rapid social and political change for our nation, something Laura Bloom has tapped right into and captured with perfection in The Women and The Girls.
‘She had no idea that when she became a mother, he would also expect her to mother him, and that his feelings would become a source of concern and interest in their household, in a way that hers never were. And that he would have moods, and be up and down, and feeling like doing this and not feel like doing that, just like the children. But unlike the children she couldn’t order him to do it anyway. Or even know what it was that he should do. She didn’t have the authority, or the knowledge, and it dismayed her, and put her off him in a deep, deep way.’
Despite the passage of time between then and now, there was plenty (for me) to relate to within this story. Above all, this is a novel about the uplifting power of female friendship and it was portrayed with such a realistic slant, yet devoid of cliché tropes that usually pop up in books about friendship, predominantly: what I like to call ‘mother-competitiveness’, a unique sort of one-upmanship that is born out of female jealousy. Instead, Laura thoughtfully explored how powerful the bonds of female friendship can be, the way in which they can flex under pressure yet withstand the force when the relationship is strong, honest, and based on respect. The three women within this novel had their issues, things got strained at times, but they ultimately relied on each other and were intent on ensuring that each was living their best life, and if one of them wasn’t, then steps would be taken to help that one out. It really was divine. Another thing I particularly like about this friendship which was strikingly real, was how it showed that just because you might be great friends with each other, this doesn’t always mean your children will be. I found this particularly noteworthy as over the years, with three children, I have formed many friendships out of the friendships of my children. Some of these have not lasted, as though as soon as our children are no longer best friends we were no longer entitled to be either. I have found this more with the mothers of girls rather than boys, which interestingly, was how it was portrayed within this novel. It was heartening to see the three women accept this about their own daughters and not allow it to break their own bonds.
My favourite type of historical fiction is that which gives the reader that walk down a street from the past, so to speak. The devil is in the details for me and the details I want are all the little things that make up the fabric of society within that time frame. Laura Bloom recreated Sydney in the late 1970s with a realism that was enchanting. The fashion, the hair (!), the attitudes, that pull between the old ideas and the new; while this novel is not about the women’s liberation movement, it still explored it via the paths the three women were walking and all they were encountering along the way. So much has changed for women in Australia since the 1970s, and it’s not until you read a novel like this that you come to appreciate the simple things we take for granted now, such as being able to walk into a bank and open your own bank account without your husband’s permission. The irony, of being in a job that has a higher qualification than your husband, earning more money, yet you can’t open your own bank account without his permission. This is the sort of fiction the society junkie within me loves. There are many issues explored throughout this novel, from simple through to serious, it does have three main female characters after all so the scope was there for a lot of ground to be covered, but it does so with balance, and subsequently, the story never once felt overdone or cluttered with issues.
I can really envisage this book as a cracking Australian television drama (hello Stan, wink, wink, nudge, nudge). It has that element of love, laughter and life that would translate well to the screen and Australia in the 1970s, all its cringeworthy glory, always makes for good entertainment in my view. While the ending of this one was a tad too gift wrapped for my tastes, I can’t fault anything else about it and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to all, it has universal appeal and would make an ideal gift.
Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Women and the Girls for review.
About the Author:
Laura Bloom is the author of eight critically acclaimed novels for adults and children, including The Cleanskin, which was described in The Australian as ‘a masterpiece of drama and characterisation.’ Her novels have been shortlisted for many awards, including the NSW Premier’s Awards. Laura is also an award-winning screenwriter, and many of her novels have been optioned for film and TV.
Laura grew up in Sydney, in the 1970s, where her latest novel, The Women and The Girls, is set. It explores a turning point of the last half century, with a uniquely female gaze – casting new light on old stories and bringing fresh insight to the struggles and conversations we are having today.
‘I’m from the Jane Austen/Liane Moriarty school of fiction,’ Laura says. ‘I want my stories to be entertaining, and an escape. The truth must be there, though – otherwise it’s not a good story. Money must be there, and other practical considerations. Love must be there, of course, and suffering. But offered in a narrative that’s told with humour and intimacy, so that my reader feels as if they’re in the company of a keenly observant friend.’
Now based in the Northern Rivers Region of NSW, Laura also teaches writing workshops, and presents at libraries, festivals and events.
The Women and the Girls
Published by Allen & Unwin
Released 19th January 2021