Susan Sheridan reviews 'The Women's Pages' by Debra Adelaide

Susan Sheridan reviews 'The Women's Pages' by Debra Adelaide

The Women's Pages

by Debra Adelaide

Picador, $29.99 pb, 293 pp, 9781743535981

In this beautifully crafted novel, two parallel stories merge. Chapters alternate between Ellis, a young woman living in Sydney in the 1960s, and Dove, a thirty-eight-year-old woman in the present day. As the novel begins, Ellis is contemplating leaving her husband and taking her baby son with her; Dove is mourning the death of her adoptive mother – and writing a novel about Ellis. Dove's first chapter describes how reading Wuthering Heights aloud to her dying mother resulted in her finding a story of her own to write, and she is now 'firmly trapped within it'. In this way Adelaide subtly introduces the idea of writing as a work of mourning. Admirers of her previous novel, The Household Guide to Dying (2008), will be reminded of how well she deals with dying and death in the midst of everyday life.

The theme of everyday life as women have traditionally experienced it, a life of household caring and cooking and cleaning, is central to Ellis's story of the 1960s. Unexpectedly, this traditional feminine role feeds into her later success in the world of paid work – as editor of a mainstream women's magazine, which gives this novel its title. The Women's Pages, known as Pages, is strongly reminiscent of the Australian Women's Weekly, and in her character-building encounter with its bullying patriarch of a publisher, the heroine's experience recalls the depiction of Ita Buttrose confronting the Packers, father and son, in the television mini-series Paper Giants (2011).

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Published in November 2015, no. 376
Susan Sheridan

Susan Sheridan

Susan Sheridan FAHA is Emeritus Professor in the School of Humanities at Flinders University in Adelaide. Her latest book is The Fiction of Thea Astley (2016). Earlier books include: Nine Lives: Postwar Women Writers Making Their Mark (2011), Christina Stead (1988), Along the Faultlines: Sex, Race and Nation in Australian Women’s Writing 1880s to 1930s (1995), and Who Was That Woman? The Australian Women’s Weekly in the Postwar Years (2002); as editor, Grafts: Feminist Cultural Criticism (1988), Debutante Nation: Feminism Contests the 1890s (1993) with Sue Rowley and Susan Magarey, and Thea Astley’s Fictional Worlds (2006), with Paul Genoni.

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