Exquisitely Charming: The Women in Black

women in blackThe Women in Black by Madeleine St John

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.

First Impressions: I loved the introduction by Bruce Beresford. And then – after reading the first chapter I wondered if it was possible to read the whole book in one sitting as I was already in love with it.

Highlights: Where do I begin? It is a genuinely Australian novel written in the style of Austen and the Brontes yet it also has a European feel with Slovenian Magda and her ‘these people know nothing!’. An absolutely lovely novel. I bought my copy on my most recent trip to Australia. The staff member at Readings Malvern helped me pick out a stack of Aussie novels to bring back to London with me. We jovially disagreed on whether we enjoyed some recently published novels but she was so enthusiastic about this novel I took her word for it and am so glad I did! I don’t want to give away any of the story so just read it for yourself.

If I was an editor: I can’t suggest any improvements whatsoever. A perfect novel.

Overall: I don’t hold on to books after I read them but suspect I will keep this one as I will want to read it again.



19 thoughts on “Exquisitely Charming: The Women in Black

  1. This is definitely St John’s best book, and no wonder it was nominated for the Booker. Very sharp, very witty, very poignant without ever being sentimental.

    • The consensus seems to be that this was her best book. However, I enjoyed it so much that I do plan to read her others. I think it’s fair to say that most novels (regardless of author) will fall short when I compare them to this one!

      • Yes, agreed. It’s not possible to have a ‘best book’ without others being not quite so good, but still definitely worth reading.

      • I keep moving further and further away from the hot new releases in my reading and would love more time to explore back catalogues of quite a few authors. That is the wonderful thing about discovering an author a bit later, after they’ve become a bit more established 🙂

  2. So glad you enjoyed this. I assume you’ve added it to the AWW Challenge! A good classic for my April report!

    Did you know that Bruce Beresford has been wanting for years to turn this into a film? (Maybe he said that in the intro, I don’t recollect, but what a good film it could make.) I love how she captured Australia at that time of change, with the European migrants bringing new things to eat, new ways to enjoy life, and how social change is starting to mean more options for young Australian women. She captures this so well, doesn’t she.

    • This is such a wonderful novel. St John was so intuitive in her characterisation. I want to read her other novels even though the consensus seems to be they are somewhat lacking in comparison to The Women in Black – but I now think most novels are lacking!
      In the introduction Bruce B does mention how he continually does not make this film even though he wants to. It is clear he is passionate about this novel and Ms St John herself so I am sure any adaptation will be quite sympathetic to the original story.

    • I’d love to see that film if it was to be made! I think I loved this book all the more because I didn’t believe what all the fuss was about. I particularly loved the ‘continental’ elements and how St John was so precise with her character descriptions. Even though most people claim this is her best novel, I still want to read her others.

  3. Pingback: April 2016 Reading Round Up | Orange Pekoe Reviews

  4. The trouble with the ‘hot new releases’ is that they are like the boy who cried wolf. Mostly they are not great, and after a while we learn not to trust the publicity machine.

  5. I’d never heard of this novel, but it sounds charming. I don’t think we hear enough about Australian writers in the U.S. Glad to add it to my TBR!

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