The Women in Black, Madeleine St John

With summer almost upon us in the Antipodes, it is good to start a list of great summer holiday reads. This book should definitely be on that list! It is short, sweet and delightfully entertaining. In addition, it is superbly written and structured and is actually a pleasure to read.

The book is set in the caverns of a large department store – read David Jones, Selfridges or Bloomingdales. It describes the lives of the Women in Black who work in Ladies Formal Wear – cocktail dresses and signature, one of a kind pieces. Their tales are carefully and intricately woven together, each one fleshed out in the manner that only a skilled writer can achieve.

The background to these intimate insights into the lives of these women is the hustle and bustle of pre- Christmas shopping and the chaotic frenzy of the sales immediately following the festivities. There is the necessary romance inserted into the fray as well as the fraught relationship between husbands and wives and daughters and their parents.

While this story is set clearly in Sydney, Australia, it is in fact an every man kind of tale (every man who lives in a large, capitalist city that is!). The characters are diverse and genuine and there is a subtle undertone of humanity that filters through this text. Without doubt, the highlight of this story is each characters’ attempt to belong in some place and to some one – whether it is the school leaver trying to find herself or the refugee trying to assimilate, each has their story, their language and each is trying to manufacture some sort of connection which will validate their existence and, on some level, perhaps, their authenticity.

A fantastic summer read.

Sydney Morning Herald Review.

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