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

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

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