The attractive cover of this book made me think of Helen Hooven Santmyer’s “And Ladies of the Club” and interestingly they’re both books about community amongst women forged in difficult circumstances. Of course it was the book club of the title that attracted me, too, as well as the interesting setting in late 1970s Australia, some of it in Sydney, but most in the Northern Territory.

We learn about the tiny town of Katherine, where we meet Sallyanne, raising three kids and dealing with a horrible husband. She’s born and brought up there and knows that nothing will change when the webs of male friendships work against her freedom. She forges a friendship with no-nonsense Rita, a nurse with the Flying Doctor service who lives in Alice Springs but visits her best friend Sybil when she can. Sybil moved to the Fairvale cattle station as a young bride, moving in with her in-laws, and now English Kate is in the same position with her. One more character is the Texan, Della, who is working with the cattle, a woman in a man’s world and dealing with all that means.

We see the women pull together in a knot of friendship and mutual support when Sybil starts a book club – only able to meet twice a year, and that in the dry season. This gives a framework for us to progress through a few years, catching up with the women as we go, a very good idea executed well. Close attention is paid to relationships with the Native Australians, with Fairvale operating as a sort of model of harmony and equality, while other places are not so decent – oh, and Fairvale still has its own family heartaches. I loved the gentle but careful discussion of the relationships between people of different ethnicities, and the gay character forging a life for himself in a natural way (he’s a character who happens to be gay; his sexuality doesn’t advance or affect the plot, which is nice, if you know what I mean).

I loved the descriptions of this strange and vivid land and its strangeness as seen through the eyes of the women from the US and UK (and we see each woman through the others’ eyes, too), and Sibyl’s green garden, which turns out to reflect her state of mind, and the themes of movement and adjustment which run throughout. Events come to some kinds of conclusions, but some ends are left untied and nothing seems false. It’s a lovely read.

There are notes by Sophie Green about the books she chose for the book club (starting, of course, with “The Thorn Birds”!) and also reading group notes for the novel as a whole.

Thank you to the publisher, Little, Brown, for making this book available via NetGalley in return for an honest review.