Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Clothes They Stood Up In


After discovering JoAnn at Lakeside Musing's blog and her mention of The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett, I requested a copy from my library (included in the volume Three Stories, along with two other novellas). Reading JoAnn's teaser last Tuesday persuaded me to read it immediately upon collecting it on Thursday. I adored The Uncommon Reader (reviewed here) when I read it a couple of months ago and I was hoping for a similarly witty, original, and enchanting read. Certainly The Clothes They Stood Up In is witty and its premise original -the Ransomes return from the Opera one evening to discover their flat has been burgled of every last item- but I wasn't enchanted; parts were definitely amusing but it didn't hold the same magic for me as The Uncommon Reader, although to be realistic, I suppose it couldn't have.

The opening deserves quoting as it is delightful:

The Ransomes had been burgled. "Robbed," Mrs. Ransome said. "Burgled," Mr. Ransome corrected. Premises were burgled; persons were robbed. Mr. Ransome was a solicitor by profession and thought words mattered. Though "burgled" was the wrong word too. Burglars select; they pick; they remove one item and ignore others. There is a limit to what buglars can take; they seldom take chairs, for example, and even more seldom settees. These burglars did. They took everything.

The first half or so of the novella is wittily engaging and wryly amusing but from there it departs in a direction of something slightly disturbing and even dark. I'm not sure what Bennett's intention was or his overall message but I found the latter half weaker and less enjoyable. I intend to read the other two novellas in the volume to compare. The Ransomes and their foibles, however, are an amusing pair of characters and the burglary an interesting plot device.


13 comments:

Diane said...

This sounds like a really fun book. Thanks for sharing!

BTW: Thanks for joining in on my giveaway.

JoAnn said...

That was quick - you even beat me to a review!! I pretty much agree with your assessment...and hope to get one of my own posted later this week.

Paperback Reader said...

You're very welcome, Diane!

JoAnn, I struggled with the books I was reading this week time-wise, excluding Fahrenheit 451 so didn't have anything else to review! I managed to read it quickly over two sitting in bed on Thursday night and on Friday morning. I look forward to reading your thoughts, even if we do agree for the most part.

verity said...

Weird - I can't remember why but I ordered that book from my library...I'm still waiting for it but it's now showing up as in transit!

Paperback Reader said...

Convenient, Verity! I love when they show as "in transit".

Sarah said...

I read this and three other Bennett stories in the collection Four stories. Like yourself, I thought it was witty and well written but sadly wasn't enchanted as I was with The uncommon reader.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Sarah, I think that because The Uncommon Reader was so thoroughly charming, everything is going to pale in comparison. I plan to read The History Boys at some point though; I enjoyed the film.

claire said...

I was dying to read The Uncommon Reader when it first came out, but that was around the time we moved to cottage country, and the library there never did get a copy, so I got to settle in with The CLothes they Stood Up In, which I enjoyed, but, like you, held no magic for me. I'm still looking to read The Uncommon Reader, and hopefully when I get registered with our library here (as we moved back to the city again) then I'll finally be able to.

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, I hope you enjoy it when you do manage to borrow a copy and read it. Yay for city libraries!

Sarah said...

I enjoyed The History Boys as much as The uncommon reader, so would certainly recommend it!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Sarah, glad to hear it! Will add it to the immediate TBR pile. Thanks.

Green Road said...

Claire, I just finished reading his and you were right - it isn't anywhere close to The Uncommon Reader. Maybe if I hadn't read TUR first, I might have enjoyed this more. I'm wondering whether to read the other three stories in the collection now? I have sooo many books that I'm eager to read, I wonder if I should just return the book to the library.

Paperback Reader said...

Swati, I feel the same. It could have been a really enjoyable read if it wasn't the fact that near enough anything would pale in comparison to TUR. I didn't bother with the other stories before returning it to the library but there could be a hidden gem...