She’d somehow fallen between the genres. Everywhere she looked, people were defined, conformed to the conventions of their particular genre. Brian the educated, handsome widower; Jim the ageing Lothario; Celia the capable tomboy. Even Angie had never wavered from her man-eating temptress persona. It made them who they were: individual. Real people. Peggy did have her own identity, even if she didn’t like it. Overweight, self-doubting. She was a nondescript person, an elasticated waistband of a human being.The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village, Joanna Nell
As a title, The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village gave the impression that this would be an ensemble of stories, featuring different women who were single for different reasons. And in a way, it was many stories in one, but they were all happening to the same main character. Peggy Smart is living, simultaneously, in a romance novel, a Bildungsroman, a family drama, a story about the importance of friendship and one of those novels where a secret from the past dominates events of the present. Joanna Nell is trying to cram an awful lot into one book, and it doesn’t entirely work.
For a start, some of those stories directly contradict each other: is The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village a romance, or a story about how friendship is more important than bagging a second love interest in later life? Trying to resolve both those plot lines leaves the ending feeling half-hearted and unsatisfying. Similarly, does Peggy Smart deserve independence from her family or does she want to reconcile with them? Again, Joanna Nell tries to let her protagonist have her (homemade) cake and eat it.
The three of them sat in silence, lost in their own memories of love and loss, oblivious to the impatience of modern life as it played out around them.The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village, Joanna Nell
There are hints in the first half of the novel at a secret from the past that’s going to dramatically explode all Peggy’s ideas about her life. Except… it doesn’t. She half-discovers the secret, half-forgets it and then, when all is finally revealed, she’s already over it. The drama of the moment comes from another source entirely, and even that is papered over to get to the end of the story.
If you want a later-in-life bildungsroman about romance and community among people in their retirement years, read Mr Doubler Begins Again, it’s heaps better.