Book Bingo 2020 is a collaboration challenge I am completing for the third year with my favourite bloggers, Theresa Smith Writes and The Book Muse. On the second Saturday of each month, beginning on Saturday 11th January 2020, Theresa, Ashleigh and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The Book Bingo 2020 card contains a total of 12 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year, with the aim to complete the whole card by December. To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us, there is no crossover – that is planned anyway! We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post, tagging us on social media, posting in Page by Page Book Club with Theresa Smith Writes or by visiting our blogs The Book Muse and Theresa Smith Writes.
At the very end of the Ladies’ Frocks Departments, past Cocktail Frocks, there was something very special, something quite, quite wonderful; but it wasn’t for everybody: that was the point. Because there, at the very end, there was a lovely arch, on which was written in curly letters Model Gowns.
Written by a superb novelist of contemporary manners, The Women in Black is a fairytale which illuminates the extraordinariness of ordinary lives. The women in black are run off their feet, what with the Christmas rush and the summer sales that follow. But it’s Sydney in the 1950s, and there’s still just enough time left on a hot and frantic day to dream and scheme…
By the time the last marked-down frock has been sold, most of the staff of the Ladies’ Cocktail section at F. G. Goode’s have been launched into slightly different careers. With the lightest touch and the most tender of comic instincts, Madeleine St John conjures a vanished summer of innocence. The Women in Black is a great novel, a lost Australian classic.
It’s all about the frocks, the black frocks specifically in The Women in Black, a novel penned by Madeleine St John in 1993. My issue of this novel was published more recently in 2018, to coincide with the feature film production of Madeleine St John’s cult Australian novel. I truly adored this amiable coming of age tale, set against the clear backdrop of Sydney 1959, with the focus being on the private lives of a number of black frocked F.G. Goode’s department store employees.
The Women in Black takes the reader to a renowned department store in Sydney in the 1950s. To assist with the Christmas rush, a teenage girl named Lisa has been employed as a sales assistant to cover the busy summer holiday period. Lisa is assigned to the women’s fashion department, where she is acquainted with another employee, who will change her life forever. Magda is in charge of the cocktail dress section and she takes Lisa under her wing. Together Lisa, Magda and the department store crew negotiate a time of change for women, but also continued suppression. They learn about the value of love, life and friendship in this elegant Australian classic.
I committed the ultimate book sin with this novel. Despite the fact that I purchased and intended to read The Women in Black when the film was released back in September 2018, it sat unread on my shelves until I discovered the feature film on my streaming service. I fell in love with the movie, and then the book. This was a rare case of a novel and the accompanying film being equally charming!
At its heart, The Women in Black is a wonderful coming of age story that I will not forget. Set against an Australian stage, this book represents a timeless reminder of our nostalgic country of yesteryear. We bear witness to the personal growth and metamorphosis of young Lisa, a temporary sales assistant at the department store in which this novel is set. I had a great deal of time and respect for Lisa, she was a special soul that touched my heart! I loved overseeing her journey and when she emerged as a young woman with so much promise I was overjoyed!
Along with Lisa there are a great set of characters who populate this novel. From Magda, the European immigrant who shows Lisa the ropes at work, to dreamy Fay and tolerant Patty, I loved them all! Madeleine St John’s prose is quite cordial at times, but I admired this gracious approach. There are moments of humour and clarity embedded within the pages of this book, that will spark your attention from the start to the close of the novel.
There are some keen eyed observations made on Australia’s society and attitudes of the late 1950s which visibly moved me. St John takes us back to a time when Australia was a new and lucky country. The book is occupied by references to ‘reffos’ European refugees, who were seeking solace in Australia after the war. Through young Lisa’s experience, our eyes are opened to the limitations placed on women to strive for a tertiary education. Lisa’s own father rejects his daughter’s aspirations, which really got under my skin, but I do feel St John accurately captured the feeling of this time. In a number of the other female characters we see women pining for a deeper sense of love, that is more about mutual respect. Change was clearly on the cards for Australian women of this time, but they were still battling against the odds.
The Women in Black presents the reader with a spellbinding journey, filled with reverence. This is a story of personal discovery and self-actualisation, with startling moments of subtle humour, gentle accord and tender friendships. I dearly loved this one and I will ensure that The Women in Black remains firmly on my keeps shelf. I may even indulge in re-read, which is a rare case for me!
If you have a copy of the 2018 feature film tie in, the introduction supplied by Bruce Beresford, the director of the movie, provides an interesting insight into the long process of launching this much loved novel onto the silver screen. Heartfelt, insightful and honest, it was an excellent accompaniment to this exceptional novel.
***** 5 stars
The Women in Black by Madeleine St John was first published on 1st December 1993 by Text Publishing Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
The Women in Black is book #1 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge