The Women’s Circle by Karyn Sepulveda

‘If Anna tried hard enough, she could imagine she was somewhere else.’

Sydney, Australia. After six years in prison for drug-related crime, Anna is released. While her possessions fit into a single plastic bag, her past weighs heavily. Anna moves into temporary accommodation feeling isolated and lonely, suspicious of anyone who offers help. While Anna would prefer to remain detached, she is required to attend a form of therapy as part of her release. While this is an obligation Anna would prefer to avoid, she connects with The Women’s Circle, an alternative support group.

Anna is fighting the demons of addiction as well as trying to find a new place in the world. She is certain that she has burned all her good connections with the past and is ashamed of her behaviour as an addict. And yet, escape is an ever-present temptation.

In The Women’s Circle, Anna finds the beginnings of acceptance. A crystal holds her attention, and touching it connects her with a woman, a stranger, in the past.

In 1770, a brutally misogynistic regime in the English village of Quarrendon imposes harsh rules on the women living there, keeping them apart from each other. Aisleen, a young married woman, looks for ways to defy these rules. Aisleen wants to see her sister and to speak with other women (both activities denied by the regime).

Anna’s knowledge of Aisleen’s struggles provides her with an additional motivation, but establishing a new life is challenging. Anna needs to believe in herself, to lower some of her defensive barriers and to learn who (and how) to trust. Can she?

I finished the novel admiring both the strength of the women’s network portrayed and the complexity of Anna’s character. Ms Sepulveda made me think about the support offered to people newly released from prison and about the assumptions we make and stereotypes we accept. And Aisleen’s story reminded me that freedom takes many forms.

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith