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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Review: The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital

Title: The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital

Author: Joanna Nell  

Publisher: 29th September 2021 by Hachette Australia

Pages: 340 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: contemporary fiction, women’s fiction

My Rating: 5 crowns


The Marjorie Marshall Memorial Cafeteria has been serving refreshments and raising money at the hospital for over fifty years, long after anybody can remember who Marjorie Marshall actually was. Staffed by successive generations of dedicated volunteers, the beloved cafeteria is known as much for offering a kind word and sympathetic ear (and often unsolicited life advice) as for its tea and buns.

Stalwart Hilary has worked her way up through the ranks to Manageress; Joy has been late every day since she started as the cafeteria's newest recruit. She doesn't take her role as 'the intern' quite as seriously as Hilary would like but there's no doubt she brings a welcome pop of personality. Seventeen-year-old Chloe, the daughter of two successful surgeons, is volunteering during the school holidays because her mother thinks it will look good on her CV.

Chloe is at first bewildered by the two older women but soon realises they have a lot in common, not least that each bears a secret pain. When they discover the cafeteria is under threat of closure, this unlikely trio must band together to save it.

My Thoughts

The Tea Ladies Of St Jude’s Hospital is the fourth novel by best-selling Australian author, Joanna Nell. Having read all Joanna’s novels, I continue to be impressed and grateful for the light she shines on this age bracket. She achieves a wonderful balance between whimsical and poignant as I turn each page, savouring every word of wisdom and humour all rolled poetically into one. 

‘So we battle on?’ 

'Ladies, we fight to the death!’ 

‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ said Joy.

The first few pages were like reuniting with old friends, as you sit back in the comfort of the words and world Joanna so clearly conveys. She is so in tune with many of the issues that affect our ageing population - loneliness, grief, purpose, finances, health and wellbeing. It is the finesse with which she embraces these topics, both the sensitivity and humour needed, in continuing to produce these engaging tales. The inclusion of young Chloe this time around and her interactions with the Tea Ladies is heartwarming.

The underlying theme from all the lead characters was one of appreciating that people are not always what they appear to be. That we sometimes need to take the time and patience to dig a little deeper to find their true self. For a variety of reasons, people often hide their true self - pride or protection for example - and we need to be more understanding and considerate of things we may not know, or indeed, need to know.

‘What she feared, more than her fading youth, was becoming irrelevant. She wasn’t ready for invisibility. The bright colours saved her from being overlooked.’

Once more I applaud Joanna for the spotlight she continues to shine on this age group. If you have not ever read one of Joanna’s books I encourage you to do so - the knowledge and expert understanding she brings keeps the stories of these people relevant and purposeful. Growing old may be a harsh reality, but it does not have to be at the expense of purposeful living. 

‘Most women of her generation had stayed firmly on the rails, and been mowed down by the speeding freight train of domesticity in the process. No one would notice, let alone care, if she went a bit wild now. That was the thing about being a woman of a certain age. While entire police departments were dispatched to search for attractive young women when they disappeared, in the movies at least, when women past middle age went missing, no one even seemed to notice.’

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This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

1 comment:

Mystica said...

I agree about the growing old and being invisible. This sounds such a good read. Thanks for the review.