Reviewed by Emma Crowley
What would you do if you were told you could never have children?
Faced with this news, Gracie Davies is at an all-time low. But with the support of some new Wimbledon friends, an unorthodox therapist, her hippy-chick sister Naomi and Czech call-girl Maya, she sets up The SW19 Club and begins her rocky journey to inner peace and happiness. Add in a passionate fling with handsome landscaper Ed, a fairytale encounter with a Hollywood filmstar and the persistence of her adulterous ex, life is anything but predictable…
Nicola May is a new author for me but after reading The SW19 Club I'll definitely be checking out her back catalogue. This book was inspired by the loss of her own twins and subsequent hysterectomy. You can tell the author has put her heart and soul into the writing of this book and in a way it probably helped as a form of healing to get everything down on paper. Don't be misled by my background information this book is not at all doom and gloom but rather nicely balances loss alongside hope and optimism with plenty of romance thrown in. The book opens with a brief but powerful prologue which instantly puts you in the frame of mind of the our main protagonist Gracie Davis. This opener was short, sharp and very powerful and I thought it was going to set the overall tone of the novel but I was pleasantly surprised the author took it in another direction. We then fast forward to six months later, Gracie is slowly coming out the other side of the most devastating loss and facing up to the reality that she can never have children naturally. Yes she is still heartbroken but the novel focuses on how she overcomes her trauma and begins to help others.
Plenty of characters were introduced and I did wonder were all of them really necessary as they don't actually all connect until later in the novel but on reflection it was very cleverly done by the author. We get glimpses into each persons life and the reader can see how they connect but the characters are unaware of just how close they all are to each other. I wanted to shout at these people look at what's happening can't you see what's going on in front of your eyes. Gracie works for Lemon Aid, a company which organises charity events. Her work helps to take her mind off everything that has happened. A work colleague Annalize provided plenty of laughs initially with the lamest of excuses for her lack of punctuality. But soon we saw a different side to her, one which made me change my opinion quite rapidly for what she does is unforgivable in my book. Gracie's career takes a different turn thanks to the actions of Annalize. What about Gracie's partner Lewis? Well he believes Gracie should be all back to normal by now. After all it is six months since the event and surely she should be making more of an effort to lose the excess weight and get on with her life. The resulting row sees Lewis flounce out the door and sadly his heart does not rule over his head and he does something totally irresponsible, as a result the pair separate. It was so obvious the pair loved each other but they really and truly had to find a way back to each other amidst all the hurt, anger and resentment. I was so rooting for the couple and hoped they would get back together but the actions of both over the remainder of the novel led me to change my opinion several times over.
As I mentioned there were quite a few characters, we have Professor Scott Princeton who is holding therapy sessions with Gracie. Strictly speaking he is not supposed to be doing this in his office but the little bit of extra money comes in handy. This bonus money allows him to continue his secret rendezvous with Maya - a barista in a coffee shop coincidently often frequented by Gracie. Soon a friendship is struck between the two women. Maya and Gracie were polar opposites when we discover Maya's true job admittedly I did judge her for it and wrongly so. When we learn of her reasons and what she wishes to do with the money I admired her gutsy ambition. But still I can't fully condone her chosen profession. The most unlikely of friendships helps both women to form a bond which eventually sees the most selfless act fulfil someone’s dreams. Scott had two sides to him on the one hand he was great with Gracie in the sessions offering her the time to talk which Lewis never provided. But then when the appointments were over he seemed to forget he was a married man with children and needed to realise playing away will not always give him the satisfaction he believes he deserves.
The common connection Gracie and Maya developed was running on Wimbledon Common and here is where hunky landscaper Ed Duke steps in. I liked him but felt Gracie was jumping at the first sign of interest from a man. She had to remember she had only just broken up with Lewis and as a reader I was still hopeful they would reunite. This coupling seemed a bit unrealistic to me. They rushed off on a holiday before you knew it whereas I think Gracie was still had her heart firmly placed with Lewis. Ed had his own dramatic storyline which connected to Cynthia (Scott's wife).I loved seeing the development of the connections and between characters and it worked very well in the later stage of the book. The one relationship I felt worked the best for me in the book may not be the one you would think. It was the sisterly relationship between Gracie and Naomi. Naomi was there for Gracie through thick and thin, she never judged but provided a fantastic supportive relationship. I think Naomi was my favourite character. She was a single mum and her adorable son Jack stole the show several times. The identity of Jack's father added an extra dimension to the book but I loved how Naomi never took advantage of his status but was determined to forge a secure future for Jack on her own merits. Yet this male character provided more romance. Honestly this romantic encounter with one of our female characters did nothing for me nor for the overall storyline in the book. It could have been left out as it showed a side of a character that up until that point I had liked.
So there are numerous good points to this book but it's not all perfect. I found the SW19 Club of the title deserved far more mention and focus. I understand maybe the author wanted an all round overall picture of the characters and their numerous story lines. But after such a memorable opening it was important not to lose sight of the general overriding theme. The afore mentioned club is only established midway through the book when a chance business opportunity presents itself to Gracie. A location is sourced and can be used for events. Gracie takes the bull by the horns and establishes a group for women to talk about how they may be struggling to get pregnant or have fertility issues, or like Gracie some may have experienced loss. There was so much here ripe for development. We get brief mentions of certain members of the group and how they are coping and in the end we discover what happens. But judging on the title I thought the club would be founded early on in the book and the story would focus in detail on the stories of each member of the group. Instead it was a smaller element than I felt it should be. Don't get me wrong I enjoyed all the characters storylines bar one or two but my impression of the book changed as I realised I wasn't going to get specific focus on the club rather it slotted in when the author felt it necessary. Gladly it does provide a source of healing and inspiration for Gracie.
Don't let the SW19 Club slip you by this summer. It is an enjoyable book that charts the many ups and downs of its characters and sees Gracie undertake a journey she will never forget. Were my hopes fulfilled? Does Gracie reunite with Lewis or does some other handsome man catch her eye? Well if you wish to discover this and the fate of the other characters go straight out and pick up a copy of this lovely read. Meanwhile I'm off to discover what other delightful books Nicola May has written.
I'd like to thank Nicola for sending us an ecopy of The SW19 Club and Emma for her fab review.