The Shelly Beach Writers’ Group by June Loves
Already a top-10 contender for the award for Book With The Most Self-Explanatory Title, this first work of adult fiction by Australian writer June Loves is an achievement in several less obvious ways. In crafting this tale of Gina, a “barely 50-something” corporate high-flier who finds herself bundled out of her business and marriage in one fell swoop and chances upon a new life in a close-knit beachside community, she tells a touching, diverting story that steers a wide berth around the sentimental.
A Shirley Valentine character who becomes her own rescuer, the wry eye Gina casts on her washed-up existence proves not only her saving grace but one of the best qualities of the novel. Next-door’s officious tween, Terri (who has apparently memorized every line of the instruction manual for guests of the beach house where Gina is staying) earns her an unvoiced nickname:
Friday 10 July
Bossy Child called after school to check how the Dog and I were progressing. ‘Did you remember to feed the Girls?’
‘Yes, I did. Proof – no dead chickens lying in the henhouse.’
Rolled-eye look from Bossy Child . . . We sat on Adrian’s front verandah and watched the rain as it pelted down. Bossy Child reminded me to tell Alf the verandah guttering was leaking and needed repairing. ‘Did you check the leak in Bedroom One? Was there any rainwater in the bucket?’
‘Yes. Just a few centimetres.’
Bossy Child loves to ask questions.
The diary-entry style and tight span of a mere five months give a peppery pace to what could easily slip into the torpid – in a sleepy beachside community full of retirees, city escapees and general oddbods, days can slip by uneventfully, but Loves’ trick is to look for the amusing in the routine. She almost invariably succeeds.
The aforementioned manual (written by Adrian, the cottage’s owner, who is partial to making cat-among-the-pigeons return visits to Shelly Beach) contains instructions relating not only to the upkeep of Gina’s ramshackle temporary abode and its animal occupants, but also myriad community responsibilities. When you live in Shelly Beach, Gina learns, you do not live alone. Moreover, you pitch in. Among her duties, aside from the convening of the titular group, are voting on the Shelly Beach Action Committee, organizing fundraising events for a writers’ festival, and mastering the tricky lock on the door of the local hall.
Each discovery of a new task – either from a Bossy Child update or a reminder email from Adrian (Gina’s tendency to overlook the obvious, bless her, explains the ease with which her slimy ex-husband relieved her of her personal wealth) – prompts an exclamation of ‘bloody hell!’ and a swift display of extreme competence from Gina.
By the time a couple of Shelly Beach months have passed, it is clear that the trajectory of Gina’s return to a life better than the one she lost will be rapid and marked by only minor turbulence and a host of eccentric supporters. Should Loves be so inspired, there is plenty of scope for a seaside sequel.
Previously reviewed on coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones