The Women in Black by Madeleine St. John
Published by Scribner
Publication date: February 11, 2020
Genres: Book Clubs, Chick Lit, Fiction, Historical
Your Local Book Store, Amazon
Somehow February has become a dreary month, both for my reading…and well, everything. Bad news and toxicity all around. We’ve been fortunate not to get much snow here in Ann Arbor, but where we live there’s nothing but brown and gray for miles, with a sullen sky overhead. I’m grateful we’ve had very little snow and only a few days with temperatures in the teens, but these winter months have stretched on for years.
So, it was an utter delight to find and read The Women in Black, written by my second saint of the week, Madeleine St. John. This tiny novel is set in Sydney in the late 1950s and takes place in the women’s dress department of a local high-end store. The women wearing black are sales assistants in their store uniforms: Patty, Fay, Mrs. Jacobs, and Lisa, a temp hired for the holidays. Oh, and Magda, the voluptuous European who works in couture and is the subject of much speculation amongst the other women.
Their uniforms may be the same but the women are vastly different. Patty is married, but her husband is an odd duck and their relationship has settled into silence. Fay has been a party girl for long enough and now longs for the stability of marriage and children, but worries she’s too old. Lisa, whose real name is Lesley (which she hates) has finished high school and wants to go to university. Something her father is dead set against.
What they have in common is their dreams. There’s nothing groundbreaking in the novel, simply a story of four women of various ages, trying to find their best life. And how, the smallest things—a conversation, a new job, an introduction—can lead to massive change. It reminded me of another favorite—Nine Women One Dress, so maybe there is something about the right dress being able to make everything better. Even fictional dresses. The Women in Black is charming and delightful, and left me smiling. Which is really all you need from your reading when everything feels gloomy.
There’s nothing groundbreaking in the novel, simply a story of four women of various ages, trying to find their best life. It reminded me of another favorite—Nine Women One Dress, so maybe there is something about the right dress being able to make everything better. Even fictional dresses. The Women in Black is charming and delightful, and left me smiling. Which is really all you need from your reading when everything feels gloomy.
She was experiencing for the first time that particular species of love-at-first-sight…the sudden recognition that a particular frock is not merely pretty, would not merely suit one, but answers beyond these necessary attributes to one’s deepest notions of oneself.
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Debi Morton says
Great interview, Catherine. I may have to look for this one. Reminds me of the British comedy, Are You Being Served!
I’ll have to look that up! I know this novel was released years ago in Australia and I think they may have made a movie out of it called The Ladies in Black. I’ve been meaning to check that out- it would make a fun movie.
Allison | Mind Joggle says
I’m glad you liked this one! I had high hopes, but unfortunately, it was a DNF for me. It just didn’t hold my attention and I didn’t feel connected to any of thee characters.
At first, I thought the writing was stiff and too old-fashioned, but then she seemed to settle into a style that was readable for me. It was a small story, but made me happy!