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The Women in Black: Book summary and reviews of The Women in Black by Madeleine St John

The Women in Black

by Madeleine St John

The Women in Black by Madeleine St John X
The Women in Black by Madeleine St John
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2020
    224 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

An irresistibly charming debut novel set in a department store in Sydney in the 1950s.

The women in black, so named for the black frocks they wear while working at an upscale department store called Goode's, are run off their feet selling ladies' cocktail dresses during the busy season. But in Sydney in the 1950s, there's always time to pursue other goals…

Patty, in her mid-thirties, has been working at Goode's for years. She's married to Frank, who eats a steak for dinner every night, watches a few minutes of TV, and then turns in, leaving Patty to her own thoughts. She wants a baby, but Frank is always too tired for that kind of thing. Sweet Fay, wants to settle down with a nice man, but somehow nice men don't see her as marriage material.

The glamorous Magda runs the high-end gowns department. A Slovenian émigré who met her Hungarian husband in a refugee camp, Magda is clever and cultured. She finds the Australians to be unfashionable, and dreams of opening her own boutique one day.

Lisa, a teenager awaiting the results of her final exams, takes a job at Goode's for the holidays. She wants to go to university and secretly dreams of being a poet, but her father objects to both notions. Magda takes Lisa under her wing, and by the time the last marked-down dress has been sold, all of their lives will be forever changed.

Perfect for fans of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, this delightful and uplifting novel portrays the roles of women in the 1950s and the timeless importance of female friendship.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[W]itty...reminiscent of Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark...A quirky period fairy tale laced with female networks and glamorous gowns." - Kirkus Reviews

"Funny and light, this story moves quickly as each character navigates the 1950s-era challenges of being a working woman in a male-dominated society with limited options for the happily ever after they all strive for." - Booklist

"A little gem... shot through with old-fashioned innocence and sly humour." - Vogue

"A highly sophisticated work, full of funny, sharp and subtle observations...a small masterpiece." - Sunday Times (UK)

"Seductive, hilarious, brilliantly observed, this novel shimmers with wit and tenderness." - Helen Garner, author of Monkey Grip and The Spare Room

"Like the deceptively simple (but perfectly crafted) little black dress, this delicious and sly masterpiece works its magic from the very first sentence. Once you slip into its folds-- full of hope and new beginnings, of luck and laughter and love - I dare you not to catch yourself smiling, and wanting to twirl, for days and days and days." – Sarah Blake, author of The Guest House and The Postmistress

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More Information

Madeleine St. John was born in Sydney in 1941. In 1965 she moved to the United States and attended Stanford, and later moved to England to attend Cambridge University. In 1993, she published her debut novel in Australia, The Women in Black. She is author of three other novels including The Essence of the Thing, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. St. John was the first Australian woman to receive this honor. Madeleine St. John died in 2006.

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