The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village
Written by Joanna Nell
Review by Dr Zewlan Moor – Byron Bibliotherapy
Looking for a summer read? This may appeal to you, as well as your patients.
The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village is a romantic comedy set in, wait for it… a retirement village. The main character is 79 year old widow Peggy Smart, who “had turned completely neutral, blending in so perfectly to the tasteful decor of the retirement village that she had all but disappeared.” (4)
Her love interest is the debonair Brian, described as “hot. Positively gas mark 7 in Peggy’s oven.” (12) Their quiet lives are changed when Peggy’s old school friend, Angie, turns up.
Throughout the novel are funny passages about neglected everyday issues. For example, “Naturally, a professional man like Brian had had both his knees replaced in a private hospital under a double-barrelled surgeon. On the other hand, Peggy had gone public for hers. Her specialist had had only one surname, and she’d shared a bay with another lady who screamed all night.” (13)
This insight into the everyday concerns of older people, which by necessity often revolve around health, may have something to do with the author being a GP.
Joanna Nell is a Sydney GP, who wrote her debut novel on her days off, juggling full-time work with teenage children. Since its acceptance for publication, Nell has taken a sabbatical year to fit in editing, book promotion and more writing to fulfil a two-book contract.
While you might expect her patients to be her inspiration, Nell says she was inspired to write the novel by a sculpture of an older woman in a bathing suit, wrinkles and all.
“It was only once I started looking at the world through the eyes of an 80-year-old character (an entire first draft into the manuscript) that I realised this was a book about ageing and a unique opportunity to challenge the many myths and stereotypes about old age. In particular, I wanted to highlight the often patronising and paternalistic way in which older people are treated by society.
“I knew it would be a story about friendship and was fascinated by the idea of childhood friends meeting again in later life having lived very different lives. I was also keen to explore the complex intergenerational struggles between adult children and ageing parents.
“At the same time I didn’t want to sugar coat ageing and didn’t want to shy away from the physical challenges of an ageing body. I wanted Peggy Smart to be a realistic and relatable character that readers could identify with and shine a light on the invisibility that older women can feel.”
While the target audience is “women in their prime”, Nell is gratified that many younger readers have embraced the book.
“We know that reading fiction increases empathy, allowing the reader to walk in the shoes of another person.” she says. “In light of the recent revelations of abuse and neglect in the aged care sector, a greater empathy and compassion in care of the elderly can only be a good thing.”
Nell has found the reception of the book by her patients to be mixed. Some of them love it, but most just want to know when she’ll be back practising. But at the age of 52, after nearly 30 years of full-time doctoring, Nell feels justified in trying a new career and seizing her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
One reader wrote that after reading the book she and her friend, both aged 80, were going swimsuit shopping. So what are you waiting for? Splurge on a new cossie, even if it’s only to lounge around in while you read The Single Ladies on the beach…
• People in the prime of their life, aged 70+
• Women with bladder instability
• Anyone who needs a laugh and an engrossing read
Joanna Nell’s Guest Novel Prescription:
Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of the Introvert in a World That Won’t Stop Talking was a personal revelation to me. I struggled with “shyness” as a child and teenager and was bullied as a result. If only I’d read this book back then and realised that there was nothing wrong with me and that as an introvert I had many gifts and qualities of worth, I would have been saved years of feeling inadequate. Nowadays I embrace that introversion and feel blessed that I feel at ease in my own company, know when to step back from overstimulation and how to energise myself. After reading Susan Cain’s book, I no longer feel inferior to extroverts and see the need to think before I speak as the strength of my opinions, and my head as a creative space rather than a receptacle for empty doubts and worries.
Dr Zewlan Moor is a GP and Founder of Byron Bibliotherapy, a private practice that helps people find the right book at the right time. She posts a monthly Novel Prescription on her website (https://byronbibliotherapy.com/) She would love to connect about all things bibliotherapy-related on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, @byronbiblio