The Women’s Pages – Victoria Purman


Sydney 1945 The war is over, the fight begins.

The war is over and so are the jobs (and freedoms) of tens of thousands of Australian women. The armaments factories are making washing machines instead of bullets and war correspondent Tilly Galloway has hung up her uniform and been forced to work on the women’s pages of her newspaper – the only job available to her — where she struggles to write advice on fashion and make up.

As Sydney swells with returning servicemen and the city bustles back to post-war life, Tilly finds her world is anything but normal. As she desperately waits for word of her prisoner-of-war husband, she begins to research stories about the lives of the underpaid and overworked women who live in her own city. Those whose war service has been overlooked; the freedom and independence of their war lives lost to them.

Meanwhile Tilly’s waterside worker father is on strike, and her best friend Mary is struggling to cope with the stranger her own husband has become since liberated from Changi, a broken man. As strikes rip the country apart and the news from abroad causes despair, matters build to a heart-rending crescendo. Tilly realises that for her the war may have ended, but the fight is just beginning…

My review

Victoria Purman has done it again! She is a master of Australian historical fiction set in and around wartime. Purman uncovers the story of women in a world where men make the decisions and women fight for their independence.

Although the war is over, women had their own battles to bear. Tilly Galloway is a strong woman who awaits her husband’s return from the war. Archie and Tilly hoped for a simple life together when the war was over, although Tilly’s world is turned upside down when Archie leaves for war.

Victoria Purman touches on subjects that we don’t often focus on. To read about the women of war, how they managed in wartime and post war, gave personal insights into the lives of many. Tilly’s friend Mary struggles when her husband returns from war. Women did not recognise their husbands; once loving family men, who return home strangers. They struggle with daily life, due to trauma, loss, grief and the horrific abuse they may have been subject to. Men came home with stories so terrifying and traumatic, they could not share what they witnessed with others. The stories of wartime prisoners were unimaginable and the scars they brought home, both physical and emotional, were deep. These emotional scars were told through Purman’s careful characterisation and stories Tilly shared with the media.

As a war correspondent, Tilly uncovers stories needing to be told. Whilst the men were fighting at war, women were provided job opportunities they would not have had otherwise. When men returned, not all women wanted to go back to tradition roles in the home.

Tilly was a writer then and wanted to continue to write post war. I enjoyed reading about Tilly’s career and her talent. She is a smart woman who challenges the traditional role those within the company attempt to place her in. As a woman, Tilly gains respect for her work.

Victoria Purman provides detailed descriptions throughout the novel for the reader to feel a sense of time and place. My favourite descriptions are of Tilly’s ten year old memories and ‘the sounds of her young life… fresh in her mind as if they were being broadcast from a wireless somewhere nearby.’ and her observations when the war had ended.

Tilly is a strong protagonist who has a beautiful relationship with her family. This is a woman who will continue to share stories of utmost importance rather than stories of running a household.

The Women’s Pages is a beautiful, heartfelt novel that explores important historical perspectives that must be shared. I highly recommend this novel for fans of historical fitcion. Thank you @harlequinaus and @harpercollinsaustralia for sending me a copy for me to read and review.