Ladies’ Rest and Writing Room

Written by Kim Kelly
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

The Ladies’ Rest and Writing Room is located in Farmer’s department store in Sydney, Australia. After spending the day spending their money, Sydney’s wealthy women can sit comfortably, drink tea, eat scones, write letters, and gossip without leaving the store. Every Tuesday, Dotty Bluebrook stops in the room to write a letter to the secret love of her life, Digs Sweet. Digs went missing in action during the Great War, which ended four years ago. Dotty won’t let herself think that he isn’t coming home. She writes him regularly, though she has no address.

Clarinda Littlemore is the new attendant at this room. Once a classmate of Dotty’s, Clarinda has fallen on hard times. Both of her brothers died in the war, and her father committed suicide after losing all their money. Clarinda grew up rich, but now lives in a small apartment with her dreadfully ill mother. Both young women are suffocated by grief but show and experience it in different ways.

In this beautiful novella, Kelly brings to life the bustle of Sydney, its various neighborhoods and streets, its beaches and businesses, in these post-war years. Her development of these two characters is tremendous. Dotty is delicate and child-like; on the surface she seems shallow and spoiled, yet her deep, secret love and grief are tearing her apart. Clarinda also hides her grief, but working, caring for her mother, and worrying about the future is wearing her down. Kelly’s prose is gorgeous; reading this book is like studying a painting by a master or listening to a symphony. Nearly perfect in its execution. Highly recommended.