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The Women in Black

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  2,991 ratings  ·  406 reviews
"A pocket masterpiece. A jewel."—Hilary Mantel

A classic novel about the women working in the ladies' frocks section of a department store in Sydney in the 1950s. Written by a superb novelist of contemporary manners, The Women in Black is a fairy tale that illuminates the extraordinariness of ordinary lives.

Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Text Classics (first published 1993)
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3.82  · 
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 ·  2,991 ratings  ·  406 reviews

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Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the loveliest novels i've read lately
portray life at Sydney in 1959, through women of different ages and background working as sellers in a department store -where they must wear black dresses-
the writer reveal their lives, relationships, feelings and dreams, depicting the changes in woman life through the new thoughts and perspectives of young generations
beautifully written first novel by the Australian writer Madeleine St John
The Women in Black is set in a the Women's Frock section of a 1950s Sydney department store where the sales assistants must all wear black dresses. Patty, Fay and Miss Jacobs (whose Christian name we never learn) all work in 'Ladies' Cocktail' while Slovenian emigre Magda rules the exclusive 'Model Gowns' section. Arriving into this refined environment as a summer casual is bright-eyed Lisa (Lesley to her parents) who has just left school and is waiting for the results of her leaving exams.

Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This slim volume is a sheer delight! And set, coincidentally just before Christmas and the New Year - in 1950s, Sydney, Australia. Everyone lives happily ever after - and I love it. I see nothing wrong with happy endings, in fact the whole book is joie de vivre. Anyone can check my French - it's not my forte.

Highly recommended - focussing on the lives of four and more women: Magda an emigre from Slovenia, Lisa Miles, our protagonist, Fay, Patty, and Miss Jacobs, - the ladies in black at F.G. Goo
Geez, I dunno. What am I missing?

I think this is possibly the first time I have ever been bamboozled and swept off a book's trail by its foreword.

Coming to this book knowing nothing about Madeleine St John, I decided to read the foreword written by the film director, Bruce Beresford, who was Madeleine's class compatriot at Sydney University in the early 1960's.

I became interested in the author herself - who was this difficult woman whose tastes went in all directions - Christianity, Buffy the
An Aussie classic from Text Publishing, The Women In Black by Madeleine St. John is a great read. The musical adaptation of the book, Ladies in Black is playing in Melbourne at present to enthusiastic audiences.

This delightful novel is set in the Women’s clothing department of a major Sydney department store in the 1950s. The story is character-driven, rather than having an elaborate action-oriented plot. It starts rather slow and low-key, but gradually builds into a most entertaining tale. At f
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Women in Black is first of only four published novels by Madeleine St John. This edition includes a perceptive introduction by her contemporary, Bruce Beresford, and an obituary by Christopher Potter. Under the guise of a story about the staff of the Ladies’ Cocktail section at F.G. Goode’s (the Women in Black), St John takes us back to Sydney in the late 1950’s.

St John manages, with very few words, to bring back the feel of those times, the ideas and attitudes, in full living colour. Nosta
Feb 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to Canadian by: Laura
This book revolves around a small group of women employed in the “cocktail frocks” section of a high-end 1950s Sydney department store. The women have little in common beyond their employment and the fairly limited gender roles available to them. “Little, thin, [and] straw-coloured” with a “worn-out face and stiff-looking perm,” Mrs. Patty Williams is in her early thirties and married to the disappointing Frank, “a bastard of the standard issue.” People wonder why it is that at her age she hasn’ ...more
Dale Harcombe
This is a charming novel that gives a picture of Sydney in the 1950s and the salesladies that wore black dresses. I was surprised to find it was written in 1993. I thought it might have been earlier than that. It’s not compelling reading but it is quietly enjoyable. I loved the cast of characters with Patty, Fay, Magda and her husband Stefan and Lesley who changes her name to Lisa. They all work in the frock section (yes they were called frocks not dresses back then) except for Magda who has cha ...more
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book tie-in with the movie! I saw the movie, Ladies in Black first a few weeks ago before Christmas and absolutely loved it. Australian drama at its best. There are a few different intricacies in the novel compared to the movie. This is a pocket-masterpiece that goes well with the movie.

Don't miss the introduction by Bruce Beresford, the director of Ladies in Black.

I'm definitely going to get the movie soon now I've heard it's out on dvd. Beautifully filmed and acted.

The book and the movie
This was a fun read - a little insight into life into Sydney in the 1960’s. There is no great, dramatic plot that holds you on its knife edge or any great controversy, but it was interesting to read about Patty, Fay and Lisa, the sales assistants in Cocktail Frocks, and Magda, a Continental, in Model Gowns, who eats salami and throws exotic parties.

This was a very easy read - I flew through it in a day - and it was a day when I had other things to do and couldn’t even spend all day reading. It i
Brooklyn Tayla
I absolutely fell in love with this story when I saw the movie of the same name earlier in the year - and I couldn't wait to read the book! In this kindle edition, Bruce Beresford, the til director, writes a touching introduction detailing his friendship with the late Madeline St John, and how he promised to make a movie which focuses on her heart warming story of young Lesley - Lisa, as she finds herself working in the busiest department store in Sydney during the lead up and after Christmas.
Update 14/9/2018: Bruce Beresford's movie of The Women in Black has just been released. And it's called Ladies in Black. Why????? WWHHYYYY????????????????????????????? More on it here:


Given that St John is one of those Australians who leaves and declines ever to come back, I was in an uneasy state whilst reading Women in Black. Is the satire affectionate or spiteful? One might assume the latter. And yet, thinking enough of it to t
Aug 03, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Another book club read, otherwise I would not have touched it. I was hopeful this book might be better than The Essence of the Thing (after all, from that Mads could only go up) and it was - by the merest squeak. At least in this book there was a little progression with the story line, but it is still not worth wasting 3 hours of my life. The author does not have a good handle on flowing conversation or know how to make a situation credible. Tedious, pointless .... frustrating!!!

One thing I did
Jaclyn Crupi
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So delcious to re-read this.
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My friend loaned me this book and I'm so glad I read it.

It is the 1950s, life is changing fast, on the floor of a large department store in Sydney the shop assistants have varied lives, the lonely wife of a man who doesn't seem to care enough for her, the good time girl always up for a party and never finding the right man. There is the tartar who runs the floor but who hides a heart of gold and across the floor the indomitable Magda, a style icon and who runs the Model Gowns part of the store
Sam Still Reading
Apr 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all Australians
Recommended to Sam Still Reading by: Text Classics
The Women in Black was a book I’d had on my ‘must buy’ list for some time. Fortunately, the release of Text Classics meant that I simply had to buy it! In my hazy recollection, I thought that this book might be something like the television programme Are You Being Served? but with a bit more weight to it.

I was wrong. In no way should this book be compared to that TV show – this book is SO MUCH MORE. (Yes, I’m shouting. Delete those thoughts of Mrs Slocombe’s hair immediately). This is a book abo
Kali Napier
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: aww2018
I don't usually have to think long and hard at the end of a novel as to whether I enjoyed it or not. It's usually a gut response. The Women in Black by Madeleine St John is set in Sydney of 1960 in the ladies' frocks department of FG Goode's. The story is essentially a series of vignettes of the lives of the central characters of Lisa/Lesley, a high-school leaver working a casual Christmas job; Patty, whose husband leaves out of the blue, forcing her to cover for his disappearance to her family, ...more
I totally loved this! Set in Australia in the late 1950s it follows the lives of 4 women who work in the ladies cocktail frocks section of a large Sydney department store. Each woman has her own challenges, and even though they aren't 'friends' as such they do help each other. A witty look at Australian society of the time, especially at the roles of women and the Europeans who resettled in Australia after the Second World War. And there are gorgeous frocks! The foreword to this edition (by the ...more
Apr 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this gentle, charming story of the women working at Goode's department store in the late 1950s. In spite of their uniform black dresses which give the novel its name, each of the characters is facing their own challenges in their lives outside the store. While this is a coming of age story for Lisa/Lesley, Patty and Fay also experience growth and transformation through the course of the story. Their wishes for themselves are not extravagant which makes this a touching story.

Cathleen Ross
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a sweet book that captures the late fifties and early sixties when women were in the service industries, wives or at home with their kids. Aspiring to uni was unusual for a woman at the time. It's lovely to read because it captures things the way they were and makes the reader appreciative of how time has moved on. It also captures when stores like David Jones were the go to places to shop in a time of no online shopping. The absolute love of fashion and artistry, which could only be obt ...more
Lesley Moseley
3 1/2 stars as its a sweet, cinematic , authentic, short read.
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks
Brilliant,absolutely brilliant. I am keenly awaiting the Bruce Beresford movie for release in 2018.
John Kidman
Needed more meat in the sandwich for my liking. Was good but I felt it was a bit light weight even though I know a lot of reviews have said otherwise.
Sarah Jones
3.5/5 it feels a bit patronising to say but this book is sweet. Clever observations throughout (lots of which have stood the test of time re women fortunately/unfortunately depending on the observation)
Bert Z
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A gorgeous little Aussie gem filled with charm, love and friendship. It was a lot of fun recognising all the locales, if you’re a Sydneysider I’d definitely recommend giving it a read for this reason alone. Nice characters, beautiful writing, engaging story, all in all, a great little read. The final page had me grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I watched the movie recently and the book was recommended to me so I picked it up at the library.

A perfectly charming little story, capturing a slice of life in Australia in the late 50s.
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So many people have been raving about this book and the movie. I haven't had a chance to see the movie yet, but wanted to read the book first.

Ladies in Black is a snapshot of life in the 1950s and follows the lives of three of the main characters, and looks at a number of the minor characters who work in the Ladies cocktail section of a Sydney department store.

Before the movie came out, I hadn't heard of this book. It was easy to read with short chapters. In some ways it felt I was reading about
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don’t usually write reviews for re-reads because they must be ace books if I’m taking the time to re-read them, right? But there’s been a few exceptions along the way and The Women In Black by Madeleine St. John is one.

I’d forgotten just how charming this story is when I picked it up last Friday. My hasty re-read (it is a very short book) was prompted by my theatre engagement that evening – Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Ladies in Black.

Set in a department store in Sydney called Goo
Sean Kennedy
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that is immensely readable and appears simply written, but it is because the author is so incisive and precise with her choice of language. St. John's economical prose actually gives an immense amount of detail and insight into her characters I simply wasn't expecting. There is one chapter which is just the words a character speaks while walking through a party which is so vivid you immediately see the character in your mind, her stance, and the way she is engaging with those arou ...more
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This rather delicious black comedy is set in F. G. Goode's, a Sydney department store — rumoured to be based on David Jones — during the 1950s and follows a group of women from various backgrounds who work in Ladies' Frocks. It's an utterly delicious read — heartwarming, life affirming, funny and sad, all at the same time.

To read my review in full, please visit my blog.
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Goodreads Librari...: Publication Date 3 13 Jul 19, 2018 09:05PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Ladies in Black 3 25 Jun 19, 2018 03:48PM  

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