Rachel Ferguson – The Brontës Went To Woolworths

Posted on | August 3, 2010 | 5 Comments

"The Brontes Went To Woolworths" The Brontës Went to Woolworths is one of those utterly bizarre books, with quirky characters and a story which makes the mind boggle. The thin line between fact and fiction is erased by the Carne sisters – the protagonists of this book – as they let their imaginations run away with them, and create a wondrous warm world of friendship, happiness and make-believe. A dog who used to be Pope, a doll who used to live in Paris and friends in high places, including Judge Toddington (“Toddy”).

You also have their mother, who indulges them and the prudish governess, Miss Martin, who judges them, as she can’t quite fathom what’s going on inside the bubble the family has created for themselves, probably to cope with grief and sadness after their father’s unfortunate demise. To be fair, one can’t really blame Miss Martin for being confused about what’s going on in this 1930s household – I was utterly baffled by what was going on for the first fifty odd pages, and I kind-of had an inkling of a clue. However, once I figured out the line that the Carnes had erased, things suddenly became much clearer…

…and while they became clear in my head, things got slightly more complicated for the Carnes, when Deirdre (the eldest sister) met Lady Mildred (Toddy’s wife) at a charity bazaar, and ended up befriending the older lady and subsequently, her husband – the father figure that Deirdre had created for herself. The “Saga” the Carnes had created for themselves was suddenly moving closer towards reality, and the emotions that ran through the book were both, endearing and heart-rending. Shiel, the youngest daughter, practically had no grip on reality, and her older sisters were extremely protective of her – not only that, but, they themselves spent most of their time in the nursery, escaping their own reality.

The other thing I loved about this book was the irony and humour present throughout. There were a fair few chunks that had be laughing out loud. For instance, the opening paragraph, as narrated by Deirdre, reads:

How I loathe that kind of novel which is about a lot of sisters. It is usually called They Were Seven, or Three-Not Out, and one spends one’s entire time trying to sort them all, and muttering, ‘Was it Isobel who drank, or Gertie? And which was it who ran away with the gigolo, Amy or Pauline? And which of their separate husbands was Lionel, Isobel’s or Amy’s?

How can you not love the irony, when this book is about the three sisters, for the most part?

Another bit that absolutely had me in splits was when Deirdre talks about a proposal she received:

I couldn’t accept the man, much as I liked him, because I was in love with Sherlock Holmes. For Holmes and his personality and brain I had a force of feeling which, for the time, converted living men to shadows.

I did enjoy this book thoroughly, and would recommend it highly. It’s not very twenty-first century, though, so it’s almost like a fairytale. The cynic in me did kick in from time to time, but, I just brushed it aside, for I couldn’t help but hope for a “happy ending” for the kooky family, that resorted to escapism to find their solace.


5 Responses to “Rachel Ferguson – The Brontës Went To Woolworths”

  1. Rachel
    August 6th, 2010 @ 2:48 am

    wow.. this book sounds strange.. but interesting.. I’d never heard of it til now.

  2. Claire (Paperback Reader)
    August 7th, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

    The Brontës Went to Woolworths was thoroughly charming but I think that it will bear more upon rereading; I found myself confused often between reality and imagination and look forward to reading it again now that I know what to expect.

  3. Bellezza
    August 8th, 2010 @ 8:44 pm

    I saw this in Bas Bleu’s catalog, and I almost immediately dismissed it as trite. Your review is making me reconsider that opinion. ;)

  4. Frances
    August 9th, 2010 @ 1:32 am

    It did take me quite a few pages to orient myself in the text, separate fact from flights of imagination, but once done, I just loved this book. The humor became almost bittersweet when I realized the successfully and lightly drawn sense of peril in the book was only too real for these women on their own. Have not found a bad one in the is whole Bloomsbury Group set.

  5. anothercookiecrumbles
    August 20th, 2010 @ 1:44 am

    @ Rachel : It is strange – a good strange though, I think.

    @ Claire (Paperback Reader) : I’m not sure this is going to go on my re-read pile anytime soon (the pile is sky high anyway!). Maybe in the next few months, I’ll change my mind – for the time being, I’m just enjoying the thoroughly quirky story.

    @ Bellezza : Trite wouldn’t be a word I’d use to describe this book – I really do hope you read it and agree with me on that one. :)

    @ Frances : This is the only book I’ve read in the Bloomsbury Group set, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I really do want to read a couple of the others – all in good time, hopefully! Any recommendations?

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