Tuesday 21 October 2008

Brontes and Woolies

I've been meaning to write a post about The Brontes Went To Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson for quite a long time, and somehow it never quite happened - perhaps it's the prospect of having to write 'Brontes' so often, without the necessary accents. I know *how* to find them, but to do it everytime... it's probably best just to pretend they don't exist.

Anyway, it's now been so long since I read the novel that I can't remember all that much about it. What's more, most of the blogosphere appear to have been read it this year - Danielle's review; Lady Bug's Books'; Cornflower's; dovegreyreader's. Sorry if I've missed some people out, and I'm sure I have, but those are the ones I could lay my hands on - in the unlikely event that anyone hasn't heard about this book, I advise clicking on one those links for a proper summary of the book! Mine will be brief...

"How I loathe that kind of novel which is about a lot of sisters", is how this novel about sisters begins. They're all rather mad, and I can't remember any of their names, but their important characteristic is that they create fantasy personalities, which cluster around them. Not their own personalities, nor other fantasy people
- but rather they choose people (sometimes a doll, sometimes - centrally - a judge they've encountered only in the newspaper) and have conversations about and with these people. Which all becomes rather complicated when the judge in question becomes an acquaintance, and has to learn how to act the part he has already been given.

And it's all rather dizzying. But in a quite brilliant way. As reviews of Edward Carey's Alva & Irva recently, and Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns a while ago (see the 50 Books...) demonstrate, I'm rather a fan of the quirky and surreal, and Rachel Ferguson dishes this up with abandon. So I can only add further endorsement to the recommendations others have already given - The Brontes Went To Woolworths is charming and zany and I can remember the feeling of reading it, even if all the other details escape me.

The other thing I can bring to the party is a different picture, since my copy is an old hardback. What an odd cover. More intriguing, Rachel Ferguson (known to many of us as author of Persephone Books title Alas, Poor Lady) is also '"Rachel" of Punch' - hmm, wonder what she wrote there... might have to get a copy up in the Bodleian and have an investigation...


  1. I've never seen that cover before! I've got the Virago reprint like everyone else... bought it at Harrods on a trip to London years ago and have been trying to get people to red it ever since. Glad it's gotten some online love this year... I ADORE this book and reread it every so often.

  2. Er. That would be READ it.

  3. I really want to read this book and I'm glad you brought it up. Very interesting to see this particular cover as well.

  4. I wish I could find a copy of this book to own! It's one I think I could easily reread and appreciate more the second time around. It is certainly the quirkiest book I've read all year. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it when I started reading it, but as I went it made more sense and I really got into it!

  5. I've been looking for a copy for ages but I don't think I'll ever find one I can afford. Will Virago reprint it one day ? It's beyond me that some publishers just let some of their books going out of print, isn't it their job to make sure they're constantly into print ?

    Anyway, since I have easy access, if you ever want to use the accent and remember to come to this post, here you go : Brontë . Also : Les Misérables . Rêve (dream) . Crème (cream) .

  6. I do so love this book. It's completely mad, but brilliant at the same time, and think the characters are wonderful!
    What a strange cover though! I think I prefer the Virago one, but I am biased!

  7. Glad you enjoyed it Simon. Inspired by your suggestion I have just read some Mapp and Lucia....loved it.


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