Book review: The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Nell

Saturday, October 20, 2018 Permalink

This blurb on the backcover of this likens it to the TV show Grace and Frankie and book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. None of which I’d watched or read, or really found appealing.

That’s not to say I don’t like books about ageing ‘disgracefully’ or the quirks that come with old age. One of my favourite books is one called Elizabeth is Missing, about a woman grappling with dementia, in addition to Fredrik Backman’s books about grumpy old men and women (A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here).

Book review: The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna NellThe Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village
by Joanna Nell
Published by Hachette Australia
on September 25th 2018
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Humour, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 9780733640353
Pages: 400

The life of 79-year-old pensioner Peggy Smart is as beige as the d├ęcor in her retirement village. Her week revolves around aqua aerobics and appointments with her doctor. The highlight of Peggy's day is watching her neighbour Brian head out for his morning swim.

Peggy 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.

I enjoyed this book, though possibly not as much as I’d hoped to. I liked Peggy and I like Angie (Peggy’s old and new BFF). The book’s written from the third-person point of view but always from Peggy’s viewpoint so we’re privy to her thoughts and I liked her (unfiltered) personality and analysis of her own actions and of those around her. And of course her own thought patterns and behaviour aren’t without their humorous quirks.

Peggy’s concerned about her memory / mind and her children’s perception of her mental stability and her behaviour. In particular she’s worried they’re keen to move her out of the retirement village and into a nursing home. Everything she does, is (in part) to convince them they’re wrong, and naturally her best efforts to prove her independence and agileness go awry.

We happen to meet her at a pivotal moment in her life… and the re-arrival of her childhood best friend Angie is both the best and worst thing that happens to Peggy. In many ways she sees Angie as her arch-nemesis. There’s an unspoken rivalry. One that perhaps didn’t really surface consciously during their childhood or young adult-years but one now that becomes quite evident. Early on, at least.

I often hear stories of retirement villages and nursing homes and the bitchiness or the rivalries, falling out over trivial matters when the smallest of things loom large given there’s little else to occupy one’s time.

I was (in fact) reminded a little of my University years (living in a residential college) or even group house type situation, where you know WAY TOO MUCH about each others’ lives and can easily become too preoccupied with them. (And guess it’s the same for any situation in which people are thrown together out of necessity or circumstance rather than choice.)

Peggy’s grappling with some health issues when we meet her and knows that a broken arm is just a hop skip and jump away from a broken hip and a nursing home. She digs in and finds surprising support in Angie. There’s a generosity she doesn’t understand and one she very much mistrusts.

Of course in the background there are family battles with grown children to be fought, retirement village politics and fund-raising antics. And there’s a bit of romance thrown in.

Essentially this is a book about friendships. The good, bad, the ugly and the unexpected.

It’s very character-driven and I liked being privy to Peggy’s mind – her idiosyncratic ways; her honest analysis about her life and lustful behaviour towards another villager; as well as her own thoughts about ageing.

There are reminders that it’s not too late (when it comes to love, life and friends), despite Peggy’s initial thinking…

It’s difficult to make those really deep friendships when you’re our age, don’t you find? No sooner have you got to know each other than you’re wearing their favourite colour and singing Abide With Me. p 113

I particularly loved the distinction Angie tries to make about the ageing process – that it’s inevitable, as is death – but how we deal with it is up to us….

It’s only a matter of time before they tow me off to the scrap heap. You think I want to sit here and dwell on that? If you think I’m going to spend what little time I have left feeling sorry for myself, then you’re mistaken. p 258

I talked to a friend about this book and she enjoyed it but said her mother loved it. I think mine will too and I think many of her friends will be able to relate to Peggy and her friends and will very much enjoy this entertaining read.

The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Nell was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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