Cover image for The women in black : a novel
Title:
The women in black : a novel
ISBN:
9781982134082
Edition:
1st Scribner trade paperback ed.
Physical Description:
209 pages ; 22 cm.
General Note:
Originally published in Great Britain in 1993 by André Deutsch.

Includes reading group guide with topics and questions for discussion.
Summary:
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. --
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Summary

Summary

"The book I most often give as a gift to cheer people up." --Hilary Mantel

"A deceptively smart comic gem." - The New York Times Book Review

"Witty and delicious." - People

The women in black, so named for the black frocks they wear while working at Goode's department store, are busy selling ladies' dresses during the holiday rush. But they somehow find time to pursue other goals...

Patty, in her mid-thirties, has been working at Goode's for years. Her husband, Frank, eats a steak for dinner every night, watches a few minutes of TV, and then turns in. Patty yearns for a baby, but Frank is always too tired for that kind of thing.

Sweet, unlucky Fay wants to settle down with a nice man, but somehow nice men don't see her as marriage material.

Glamorous Magda runs the high-end gowns department. A Slovenian émigré, Magda is cultured and continental and hopes to open her own boutique one day.

Lisa, a clever and shy teenager, takes a job at Goode's during her school break. Lisa wants to go to university and dreams of becoming a poet, but her father objects to both notions.

By the time the last marked-down dress is sold, all of their lives will be forever changed.

A pitch-perfect comedy of manners set during a pivotal era, and perfect for fans of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel , The Women in Black conjures the energy of a city on the cusp of change and is a testament to the timeless importance of female friendship.


Reviews 2

Kirkus Review

In this witty little gem of a tale, reminiscent of Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark, three women working at a posh department store see their lives turn important corners while a fourth lends a helping hand."At the end of a hot November day Miss Baines and Mrs. Williams of the Ladies' Frocks Department at Goode's were complaining to each other while they changed out of their black frocks before going home." The opening sentence of Australian novelist St John's (A Pure Clear Light, 1996, etc.) first novel, originally published in 1993, instantly transports readers back to a more genteel era. The setting is Sydney, the era post-World War II, and the cast of characters a mix of middle- and working-class locals and bohemian refugees. Teenager Lesley Miles, an aspiring poet who prefers to be called Lisa, lands a Christmas job at Goode's while waiting to see if she has passed the Leaving Certificate exam and qualified for a university place. Employed partly in Ladies' Cocktail, she is also seconded to Model Gowns, where she meets Magda ("no one could even try to pronounce her frightful Continental surname"), a formidable, sensuous, shrewd figure whose social gatherings will introduce Lisa and Fay Baines to a new world of sophistication and possibility. Patty Williams, meanwhile, is the character with the most intractable problem, namely her husband, Frank, whose dim libido leaves her despairing at the unlikelihood of children. St John, who died in 2006, has created a meld of New World naivet and old European wisdom, its simplicity punctured with enduring savvy: "The point is they are happy together now. It is the only possible beginning. The middle and end must take care of themselves as they always do. Or not, as the case may be."A quirky period fairy tale laced with female networks and glamorous gowns. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

This quirky peek into the lives of four Australian women as they sell women's clothing at Goode's Department store is predictable, but sweet. Patty, the unhappily married middle-aged veteran of Goode's, experiences a twist in her personal life that makes focusing at work more difficult, while Fay dreams of Mr. Right as she wastes time with Misters Wrong. Worldly and glamorous Magda enjoys the finer things in life with her husband and traveler friends as she peddles the high-end gowns. Then Lisa arrives, who is young and bright like a penny waiting to be lucky as she takes all opportunities that come her way. 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. The dialogue is snappy and full of vintage Australian terms, such as the practice of sizing clothes using an alpha system. Perfect for lovers of chick lit with a dash of romance and historical fiction for good measure.--Monica Garza Bustillo Copyright 2020 Booklist


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter 1 1 At the end of a hot November day Miss Baines and Mrs. Williams of the Ladies' Frocks Department at Goode's were complaining to each other while they changed out of their black frocks before going home. "Mr. Ryder's not so bad," said Miss Baines, in reference to the floor manager; "it's that Miss Cartright who's a pain in the neck, excuse my French." Miss Cartright was the buyer, and she never seemed to give them a moment's peace. Mrs. Williams shrugged and began to powder her nose. "She always gets worse at this time of the year," she pointed out. "She wants to make sure we earn our Christmas bonus." "As if we could help it!" said Miss Baines. "We're run off our feet!" Which was quite true: the great festival being now only six weeks away, the crowds of customers were beginning to surge and the frocks to vanish from the rails in an ever-faster flurry, and when Mrs. Williams was washing out her undies in the handbasin that night she had a sudden sensation that her life was slipping away with the rinsing water as it gurgled down the plughole; but she pulled herself together and went on with her chores, while the antipodean summer night throbbed outside all around her. Mrs. Williams, Patty, and Miss Baines, Fay, worked together with Miss Jacobs on Ladies' Cocktail Frocks, which was next to Ladies' Evening Frocks, down at the end of the second floor of Goode's Department Store in the centre of Sydney. F. G. Goode, a sharp Mancunian, had opened his original Emporium ("Ladies' and Gents' Apparel--All the Latest London Modes") at the end of the last century, and had never looked back, because the people of the colony, he saw straightaway, would spend pretty well all they had in order to convince themselves that they were in the fashion. So now his grandchildren were the principal shareholders in a concern which turned over several million Australian pounds every year, selling the latest London modes, and any modes from other sources which looked likely. Italian modes were in the ascendancy at present. "I got it at Goode's," as the caption said, on that insufferable drawing of a superior-looking lady preening herself in a horribly smart new frock before the envious and despairing gaze of her friend--the frocks and the poses might change with the years, but that ad always ran in the bottom left-hand corner of the women's page in the Herald : I believe the space was booked in perpetuity, and the caption had long since become a city-wide catchphrase. Goode's stayed ahead of the competition by means of a terrific dedication to the modes. They sent the buying talent abroad for special training at the great department stores of London and New York. When the new season's clothes came into the shop twice a year the staff worked overtime, pricing and displaying, exclaiming the while. "Never mind if it does retail at £9.17.6," said Miss Cartright, "this model will vanish within a fortnight--you mark my words!" And this they duly did. Excerpted from The Women in Black: A Novel by Madeleine St John All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.