In brief: It’s the end of World War II and everyone is ready to celebrate. But for Tilly and her friends, it’s a time of loss – of family and their jobs.
The good: A lot of historical detail.
The not-so-good: Sometimes a bit heavy on the historical detail.
Why I chose it: I enjoy Victoria Purman’s books. Thanks to Harlequin for the copy.
Pages: 394 (ARC)
Publisher: HQ (Harlequin/Harper Collins)
Setting: Sydney, New South Wales
Rating: 8 out of 10
Victoria Purman first came on to my radar as an excellent writer of romantic fiction, but she’s just as talented (if not more) when it comes to historical fiction. Her historical fiction is always full of detail, including little known aspects about women’s roles. In The Women’s Pages, she takes the reader to Sydney just as World War II ends. To the modern reader, this day has always been portrayed as a day when joy returned to the lives of Australians but Purman explains that for some women, new dramas were just about to start.
The main character Tilly is a war correspondent for a Sydney newspaper. Being a woman, she’s never been allowed outside the country (just another taunt that her male colleagues can add) but she’s happy in her job. The end of the war means that she will be moving to the women’s pages – beauty, fashion, social events and gossip – all things Tilly detests. The end of the war means that Tilly’s husband, a prisoner of war should be on his way home soon. For Tilly’s friend Mary, it means that her husband will be coming home from Changi prison– but despite the much-heralded return of the first POWs, bonny and well fed, her husband is a shell of himself mentally and physically. Tilly’s sister is hoping and waiting that her husband will return home to his family…eventually. Even at home, Tilly’s father is fighting unions as the dock workers ask for a pay rise and strike action occurs. And Tilly’s unshakeable war correspondent colleague Cooper is shocked at what he finds in the prisons and war trials. It seems that the end of war doesn’t mean the end of pain and suffering.
The Women’s Pages is intricately researched down to the last detail. I don’t think I’ve read a book that describes everyday life so well for the average woman. Occasionally, the story is more detail with less action, but I think Purman should be proud of what she’s discovered (and historical fiction is the main way I learn my history). Tilly is a fascinating character, straddling the middle class with working class roots. This background gives the reader an insight into how the immediate post-war period was for many Australians, with government support to war widows being cut and these women being unable to provide for their family. (Even working women were paid less than a man for the same job and many were displaced or lost their jobs as the soldiers returned home). Tilly is a gutsy character in the workplace, but vulnerable in her personal life as multiple tragedies occur. What I liked about The Women’s Pages was the realism as characters dealt with multiple blows as the fairy-tale post-war period they had imagined didn’t come true. The women and men demonstrated courage and a plodding determination to work through this, as they had during the war years.
But the story is not all doom and gloom. There are stories of rising above adversity and a romance, plus a nice plot twist that shows just how important inside information can be. The Women’s Pages is a well written, easily readable and worthy addition to Australian historical fiction. It covers women’s lives in a way history books don’t.