Review: The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital by Joanna Nell


Title: The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital

Author: Joanne Nell

Published: 29th September 2021, Hachette Australia

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia



My Thoughts:


The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital is an endearing and entertaining novel from bestselling Australian author Joanna Nell.

Though the decor is tired, the menu uninspiring, and the coffee bland, The Marjorie Marshall Memorial Cafeteria has served the visitors and employees of St Jude’s Hospital nobly for fifty years, its profits funding a variety of projects to benefit patients. Staffed by volunteers, septuagenarian Hilary Halliday has held the position of manager for a decade and runs a tight ship, but with her personal life recently upended, her role at the cafeteria has become a life raft, which is why she is rocked to discover that management is contemplating closing the cafeteria in favour of a popular ‘whole food’ cafe franchise.

The storyline of The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital is told through three characters – Hilary; probationary volunteer Joy, with a penchant for blue eyelash falsies and bright clothing, of similar age to Hilary; and seventeen year old student Chloe Foster-Pearson, reluctantly volunteering at the behest of her surgeon mother. Each slowly reveals their private struggles as they face uncertain futures. I enjoyed the process of getting to know these well drawn characters, very different from one another, who become united by their determination to save the cafeteria.

The themes of family, friendship, change, and identity are prevalent in The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital. Nell also sensitively explores issues related to ageing, particularly for women. There is a little dig at the commercialisation of hospital care, and the Millennial folly of style over substance.

Written with warmth and humour, The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital is a charming and cheerful read.


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Review: The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home by Joanna Nell

Title: The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home

Author: Joanna Nell

Published: 27th October 2020, Hachette Australia

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia/ Netgalley


My Thoughts:

The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home is a charming novel proving you’re never too old for a fresh start from Joanna Nell.

After 89-year-old Miss (never Mrs or Ms) Hattie Bloom breaks her hip from a fall in her backyard, she is dismayed to be told she must spend four to six weeks convalescing at the Woodlands Nursing Home. A recluse, far more more comfortable with birds than people, she is desperate return to the sandstone cottage she was born in, particularly concerned for the welfare of a pair of nesting owls in a tree her new neighbours are threatening to fell. When an ill-timed escape attempt is frustrated by a traffic jam, Hattie resigns herself to the temporary encroachments on her privacy and independence, agreeing to repairs on her home that might let her leave her sooner.

Ninety-year-old Walter Clements, recovering from a car accident, is also determined to return to his suburban home sooner rather than later. To that end, the former driver instructor agrees to humour his daughter and the DON (Director of Nursing) and undertake an assessment to show he is capable of safely managing a mobility scooter. Walter is outraged when a few small mistakes, which includes running over his examiner’s foot, destroying an antique table, and knocking over newcomer, Miss Hattie Bloom, scuppers his chances.

It’s not the most auspicious start to a relationship but nevertheless a friendship slowly blossoms between Hattie and Walter, despite their oppositional temperaments. Where Hattie is reserved and aloof, Walter is loud and gregarious, they actually remind me a little of my own grandparents (and coincidentally my grandfather was also named Walter). Both are well-developed characters, depicted with authenticity and warmth. Hattie, a naturalist and author, who has spent almost her entire life alone by choice, slowly opens up as she becomes enmeshed in the fabric of Woodlands. Walter is occasionally inappropriate, a little bewildered by today’s mores, fond of a glass or three of whiskey, and an incurable optimist, though not without regrets. Though he hopes to go home, he is making the best of his time in Woodlands.

Nell draws on her experience as a GP visiting nursing homes, to provide some insight into the routines, successes and failures of institutional care. Woodlands certainly seems better than many which have made news headlines due to abuse and neglect, however it’s still an institution and as such rules and regulations often override common sense practice. This is evident when night nurse Bronwyn is fired after her aged black lab Queenie, accidentally knocks over and injures one of the residents. Bronwyn is a favourite of many of the Home’s residents, not the least because of her unofficial night time ‘club’, the Night Owls, that provides and encourages activities for the sleepless.

Hattie and Walter’s antics are delightful, though not without a hint of poignancy. They bond over their plan to have Bronwyn reinstated, assisted by Murray, another resident who has become a close friend of Walter (men are severely outnumbered in Woodlands) but is bedridden. Nell doesn’t shy away from portraying the difficult realities of ageing, and Murray’s approaching demise, and his desire to go home one last time, is treated sensitively.

The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home is a witty, charming, and heartwarming novel, recommended for the old, and not so old alike.


Available from Hachette Australia

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