THE SUNNYVALE GIRLS
Author: Fiona Palmer
Penguin Australia RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Charming and light, Fiona Palmer’s sixth novel is a rural romance about love at any age, relationships and identity. I had the pleasure of hosting Palmer at a Stories on Stage event last year during which she talked about her inspiration for this novel, as well as her research trip to Italy, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing how it all came together.
Maggie, Toni and Flick are the Sunnyvale girls – three generations of Stewart women who live and work on the family farm, setting aside personal dreams of travel and adventure. Seventy-something Maggie, the family matriarch, remembers when the farm was home to two Italian prisoners of war, and the man who captured her heart. Her daughter Toni, a single mum in her early fifties, thinks it’s too late for love, travel and dreams, and wishes her daughter Flick would do all the things she never did rather than make the farm her life. When Flick uncovers a parcel of letters from Italian POW Rocco to Maggie, a secret is revealed that rocks Toni and Maggie’s relationship, and is the catalyst for a trip to Italy to find Rocco. In the meantime, each woman is challenged to examine their heart, open themselves to love and opportunity, and find strength in the women they are.
Moving between rural Western Australia and Umbria, Italy, The Sunnyvale Girls lightly touches on a number of interesting issues – the treatment of Italian POWs in Australia, the impact of rural living on relationships and life choices, and relationships for aging people. What makes this novel different to a lot of other rural romances is that the romance was not confined to one young woman. Instead, three women were given romantic story lines, showing that the need for love, sex and romance doesn’t fade after or during middle age. It was refreshing and I wanted to see each of the woman succeed in their quest for love and fulfilment.
The dual Italian/Western Australian setting appealed to me, especially since I make no secret of my dreams to go to Italy. Palmer’s own experiences of Italy are evident through little references to people smoking everywhere and the preference, expressed by a number of characters, for rural life over urban life. I’ve mentally filed some of her characters’ observations away for the future. Palmer’s love for the Western Australian countryside is also evident, with warm and inviting descriptions of the landscape and the lifestyle.
Heartfelt, gentle and romantic, The Sunnyvale Girls makes it crystal clear why Fiona Palmer is so popular among rural romance lovers. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and just right for some well-earned “me” time.
Available from good bookstores and Penguin Australia. My copy was courtesy of Penguin Australia.
Bookish treat: Biscotti and coffee. Italian and simple.