"How I loathe that kind of novel which is about a lot of sisters"; so proclaims Deirdre, one of three sisters, at the beginning of The Brontës Went to Woolworths.
London, 1931: As growing up looms large in the lives of the Carne sisters, Deirdre, Katrine, and young Sheil still share an insatiable appetite for the fantastic. Eldest sister Deirdre is a journalist, Katrine a fledgling actress, and young Sheil is still with her governess; together they live a life unchecked by their mother in their bohemian town house. Irrepressibly imaginative, the sisters cannot resist making up stories as they have done since childhood; from their talking nursery toys, Ironface the Doll and Dion Saffyn the pierrot, to their fulsomely imagined friendship with real high-court Judge Toddington who, since Mrs. Carne did jury duty, they affectionately called Toddy.
However, when Deirdre meets Toddy's real-life wife at a charity bazaar, the sisters are forced to confront the subject of their imaginings. Will the sisters cast off the fantasies of childhood forever? Will Toddy and his wife, Lady Mildred, accept these charmingly eccentric girls? And when fancy and reality collide, who can tell whether Ironface can really talk, whether Judge Toddington truly wears lavender silk pyjamas, or whether the Brontës did, indeed, go to Woolworths?
The Brontës Went to Woolworths is part of The Bloomsbury Group, a new library of books from the early 20th-century.
Moreover, the narration makes the situation worse.
We're dropped "in media res" as it were, and expected to keep track of all the many names bandied about; the closest I could manage was to distinguish new ones, from those previously introduced. Core family consists of a widow and her (three) daughters, along with a some people who are "adopted" as close family friends by the kids, even though they've never met them, with stories of their doings sounding as though the family sees these (unknown) people regularly. Reading a print book one might be able to keep better track of which character is which, but the audiobook keeps rolling along so that by the end of a long bus ride to a further part of town my ears were glazing over. At first I had thought the action was set in the 1930's, but by the end it seemed much earlier; I never got an idea of the ages of the kids either, assuming roughly that the oldest was university age, the middle (through whose voice we hear the story) a high school student, and the youngest in later grade school? The father apparently died when the latter was fairly young as she has no memory of him at all. All very confusing. I'll spoil the ending by saying that if you hate endings like " ... and then she woke up" you won't be happy here.
As for the narration ... an American reader making (almost) NO attempt at anything British at all! Had they been specifically an expat American family, who'd relocated to London later, that might be barely tolerable, but they're not. Instead, it's incredibly confusing hearing an American voice blithely quoting prices in "bobs" etc. I believe the name Chisholm is pronounced "Chizzum" rather than CHIS-holm, the spectacles without ear pieces are called "PANS-nay" rather than "PINSE-nezz"; and yes, Ms. Allen butchers Leicester Square entirely. And on, and on.
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Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
This is one of my all time favorite books. It's odd, funny, Sui Generis. I've read it over and over and was delighted to find an. Audio version, but disappointed by the reader's accent and choices. This is SUCH an English book; to hear it read in an American voice was like finding a poor translation from a foreign language. And so much of it is witty dialogue, which often didn't come across well here. I'd urge this book on anyone but read it rather than listen to this.
Do you think The Brontës Went to Woolworths needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?
Good God no
1 of 1 people found this review helpful