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Susan’s Bookshelves: The Widows’ Wine Club by Julia Jarman

I read eclectically. And I always told my students that and advised them to do likewise. We all need variety and we all read at different levels. There is nothing wrong with “accessible”. No one can (or should) read, say, Henry Fielding or Wordsworth to exclusion of all else. On the other hand a literary diet restricted to, say,  Jilly Cooper (congratulations Dame Jilly) or Wilbur Smith wouldn’t be good for one’s brain either.   So I dot about, although as regular readers will have long since noticed, personal taste generally keeps me away from horror, fantasy and ghosts.

The Widows’ Wine Club (2023) is about three women who’ve husbands have recently died – and of course I can personally identify with that “Now what?” feeling. Been there. Done that. They are different sorts but, having met more or less by chance, they become firm friends. It’s engaging and entertaining. All three women, Viv, Zelda and Janet are nicely drawn people that one would be glad to have in one’s own friendship circle as we gradually learn more about their marriages, families and outlook.

This is Julia Jarman’s first adult novel although she has written many titles for children of all ages which is why her name was familiar to me. I suspect she dislikes categorisation and labels as much as I do so I refuse to describe this book as “rom com” or “chick lit”. And as for the publisher describing (condemning?) it as “golden years women’s fiction” –  ugh.  Rather, it’s a rich celebration of friendship, often quite funny and a good choice to curl up on the sofa with on a winter’s afternoon.

When Zelda – a mixed race hairdresser whose unknown father was a wartime GI – meets an online date in a pub, Viv creeps in to rescue her if necessary. Viv is a professional landscape and jobbing gardener living in a lovely arty house that she can’t afford to stay in.  Janet, on the other hand, is the crisp widow of a standoffish bank manager who was also a womaniser, although she doesn’t discover that until after his death.

The big question is do they want new relationships? Zelda definitely does. The others are less sure – until Janet gets close to a wealthy and gallantly fancy-able widow from church and Viv, while she’s away on a course, sees a man in a museum who reminds her of someone … Into this mix are blended many misunderstandings, uncomprehending adult children, very elderly manipulative parents, illness, a bit of gentle sex, some far-fetched coincidences and  lots of wine.

I enjoyed spending time with these women and I like Jarman’s slightly quirky style. It’s a third person novel from three viewpoints so that we get chapter headings each with one of their names and then spend time seeing/experiencing/doing thing with whichever one it is and of course, at times, it overlaps.

Next week on Susan’s Bookshelves: Unofficial Britain by Gareth E Rees  

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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