Female Friendships in Full Bloom
Writer Laura Bloom has just released The Women and The Girls, her latest novel with Allen & Unwin. Set in the inner west of Sydney in the mid ‘70s the book details the story of three women who have left their husbands, taken their children (mainly girls) and set up a share house. This was at a time when there was no government support for single parents, and women then tended to stay in bad relationships. This was the beginning of women finding their way into lives with independent agency. Central to this book is not their relationships with men, but their relationships with each other.
‘I wanted to talk about friendship,’ says Laura, who writes from her Mullumbimby home. ‘That is one of my major themes. I am fascinated with it. My friendships with certain women have been as important as my marriage, and those friendships can be complicated, they go through ups and downs. My concept of what it means to be a friend has grown since I was a little girl – that’s why I included the story of little girls in the book. My female friendships have dominated my thoughts. In particular I have one friendship that I have thought about as much as anything else.’
The Women and The Girls brings together three very different women – one timid, depressed English woman, an earthy boho mama figure, and a corporate high flyer. What connects them are their marital challenges and the loss of self, and this yearning to be truly loved. Even today this is still a brave reason to leave a marriage. Bloom’s novel is fast paced, and heavily imbued with the feel of the 1970s. In fact, one of the novel’s first defining moments takes place at an ABBA concert!
This book is in essence a love story – but not what you’d think. It’s about women learning to love each other, and even more importantly – to love themselves; it’s almost a romance.
‘I think most friendships start with a romance,’ says Laura, ‘but when it hits the rocks and hard things happen, women often lose each other,’ she says, admitting to seeing a couples counsellor with one of her friends. Laura believes it’s important for women to be able to navigate stories of conflict and how to move through to maintain and grow their friendships. ‘In books like Pride and Prejudice there are strong friendships [but] I want to read much more about the hard times and difficult times and coming through it all.’
So why set the story in the 1970s?
‘I am a very ‘70s person,’ laughs Bloom. ‘I grew up in Glebe, which is what Sandgate is – the fictional inner west. The ‘70s were so liberating. These women wouldn’t have identified as feminists at that time, but it was affecting them; the liberation of it being acceptable to go out and seek a life. They all left because they were unhappy, and the attitude about leaving would have been terrible then.’
For Laura it was important her characters made mistakes. ‘Women couldn’t make mistakes without horrific consequences. I wanted these women to make mistakes in relationships and learn how to come back from them. There is so much pressure on women to be perfect – sometimes it feels like it’s got harder now. But we need to be able to make mistakes… men have that privilege.’
The Women and The Girls is Bloom’s attempt to navigate ‘The Hero’s Journey’ from a female perspective. ‘It’s this Jungian thing where the man has to go out and find his emotional path and connect with his father and come back after completing a journey. So what is the heroine’s journey? Women need to go out and claim their aggression. Discover it and own it.’
So that is what underpins the story of the women. But what about the girls?
‘I wanted to have women, with their complicated friendships, then they put that idealisation on their daughters – you want your kids to live that ideal, even if you can’t.’
One of the incidental characters is Jasper, he’s the son of Libby, the boho mum. He has an intellectual disability – he is often the quiet unifier of the disparate group. He’s also the character who’s the most emotionally open.
‘Leo, my son, has a disability’ says Laura. ‘I have seen how he carries a vulnerability, with him – it’s upfront in lots of ways – he is so strong, but I think what is always there is a vulnerability in the world. I have seen how that can be a good thing.’
The Women and The Girls is a thoroughly enjoyable read; funny, warm, touching and compelling. It makes you want to live in that bubbling share house in the inner west in the 1970s, sitting up late drinking wine with those women.
Laura Bloom will be signing her book at the Mullumbimby Bookshop on Thursday, 4 February, between 12 noon and 2pm. As this is a COVID Safe event, registrations are required.