Book Review

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green

In a seaside suburb on Australia’s golden coast, four women head to the water to swim every day…

Housewife Theresa wants to get fit; she also wants a few precious minutes to herself. So, at sunrise each day she strikes out past the waves.

From the same beach, the widowed Marie swims. With her husband gone, it is the one constant in her new life.

Elaine takes to the sea having recently moved from England, while Leanne is twenty-five years old and only has herself to rely on.

In the waters of Shelly Bay, these four women find each other. They will survive bluebottle stings and heartbreak, they will laugh so hard they swallow water, and they will plunge their tears into the ocean’s salt.

Most of all, they will cherish their newfound friendship, each and every day.

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is a novel about friendship although the four women at its heart are strangers at the outset.  Each has their own reasons for swimming in the bay, and the four find a connection despite the differences in their backgrounds, lifestyles, ages, and experience, united by a shared passion.  I love each of these characters in different ways.  The chapters alternate between their four perspectives, and so the reader gets to know each one intimately, learning about their hopes and fears and the ways in which they are dissatisfied with their lives.  I think that the one thing they have in common – aside from the swimming – is that they are all lonely in some way, and as each comes to face up to their demons they provide a support network to each other that brings out warm, fuzzy feelings in the reader.

The novel is told over the course of two years, and the reader sees how the lives of these four ladies change in that time as each of them has to face the various trials that life throws at them.  It’s a story that will take you through the whole gamut of human emotion as Green makes you care about these four women and what’s happening in their lives.  Theresa’s story is perhaps the most traumatic of the four, and it’s her tale that is explored in greatest depth. I felt anger as she is run ragged by her two children and the maintenance of the house, her layabout husband never lifting a finger to help with either. She’s such a caring and upbeat woman that it’s difficult to see her brought so low by the events of the novel. Leanne’s tale also evokes outrage as you learn more about her past and why she shuns human connection – her friendship with these four ladies being a first softening in that regard.  It a sad tale as she comes to deal with the events that she has tried to put behind her.

Elaine and Marie are both slightly older, and their stories a little different as a result.  Elaine evokes sympathy as she struggles to make connections and find meaning in her life so far from where she grew up.  Her husband is a surgeon and works long hours, leaving Elaine to find solace in a bottle just to get her through each day. Hers is a story of learning to appreciate what you have, rather than letting the things you’ve lost or given up mask the positives. Marie is the character that seemed most different to the others, and I think that is because she has already faced the type of events that the other ladies are going through. Marie is older, wiser, and has a pleasing bluntness in her interactions with others – not callously so, but she isn’t afraid to tell it how it is.  Marie was my favourite character of the four, and her tale is particularly uplifting.

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is a novel about hope and realising that it’s never too late to make a change, however unexpected and scary that might be.  It shows the importance of friendship and opening up to those around us – not just maintaining a façade and pretending that everything is ok.  It’s a novel about battling one’s demons and coming out stronger on the other side as a result.  It’s ultimately an uplifting read with a strong feelgood factor, and one that I would recommend to fans of Libby Page.

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle was published on 9 July by Sphere. Many thanks to Kirsteen Astor, Francesca Banks, and the publisher for providing a copy for review.


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