The Brontes Went To Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson

Now I mentioned earlier that I would be popping up a post of one of the books that has been one of my favourite books of the year so far. Now by favourite I don’t mean “best literary read” of the year in this case, though that’s starting to sound negative and I couldn’t be negative about this book if I tried, what I mean by favourite is that its been one of the most funny and barmy reads that I think, as yet, I may ever have read… seriously its just cuckoo but in an utterly brilliant way.

The Bronte’s Went to Woolworths, originally published in the early 1930’s and now brought back by The Bloomsbury Group, isn’t a book about the Bronte sisters being whisked in a time machine to the 1990’s and ending up working for the now defunct chain of shops. What a good premise though, maybe I should write that book myself? It is however a quite brilliantly bizarre tale of the three Carnes sisters, even if the first line in the book is one of them saying they hate books about sisters – its that sort of book.

Katrine is studying to be an actress though for the main ends up playing characters who invariably mislay their virtues. Deirdre, who narrates part of the tale, is a journalist and is now trying to become a novelist. The youngest of the sisters is Sheil who is still studying though seems to have her head in the clouds. These girls along with their mother seem to be living in a world that is half made up with talking nursery teddy bears and dolls accompanying them wherever they go or inventing characters based on people they read about in the newspaper and having them around the dinner. This is all under the watchful and long suffering eyes of Agatha Martin who also narrates the tale and helps you see the fact from the fiction.

However one day at a charity function Deirdre meets the wife of Judge Torrington someone Deirdre read about and has made an imaginary best friend of. What happens when the character she has created genuinely becomes a friend and therefore needs to fit in with the life that has been fictionally created for him? If not it may shatter the fantasy illusions that these sisters seem to have created since the death of their father with their mother playing along. It’s a surreal, very funny in parts and quirky book that if you give it patience will pay of in dividends.

I mention patience as at the start I was worried (oddly after discussing this yesterday) that I wasn’t going to gel with this book at all. The line between what is fantasy and reality can be quite confusing and it did take me about thirty pages or so until I worked out what was what, who was real and who wasn’t. If you don’t like books that need some hard work for great reward or aren’t a fan or the surreal then maybe skip this one. If like me you enjoy both those things, the era of the 1930’s and the writings of Nancy Mitford then you will lap this all up once you have set it straight in your mind and be carried away with it all. Brilliant.

Rachel Ferguson’s not a novelist that I had heard of until I started reading The Bloomsbury Group’s reissued classics but she is definitely be intrigued to read much more of. I have seen that one of her novels ‘Alas, Poor Lady’ has been published by the lovely Persephone and so I think that will be my next port of call for all things Ferguson. Have you read The Brontes Went to Woolworths, if so, what did you make of it? If you haven’t would the slight craziness put you off? Whats the most barmy book that you have read? Do you think we sometimes have to put hard work in as the reader (I do) or should the author make it plain sailing?


Filed under Bloomsbury Group, Bloomsbury Publishing, Rachel Ferguson, Review

16 responses to “The Brontes Went To Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson

  1. Oh I am so glad that you loved this! It is an amazingly quirky book but simply wonderful.

    The barmiest book by far that I have ever read is Geek Love by Katherine Dunn but that has an out-there premise whereas The Brontes Went to Woolworths has a basic plot but with characters who are rich in imagination (which I love).

    Sometimes I need to be challenged or taxed by a book and they shouldn’t all be easy reads; I need those little grey cells to be worked but not necessarily in everything that I read.

    • I did love this indeed and now need to get the final four in the series. I do hope they are planning to issue more next year, for example the second Henrietta book that would be an absolute joy, am going to have to think of an old classic I want to see come back.

  2. I love the craziness of it – it really works, doesn’t it?
    And do you know the barmiest book I have ever read… Miss Hargreaves, of course!!

    Alas, Poor Lady is very good – but feels as though it comes from a completely different author. Much more sombre and issue-led, but in a good way. I’ve been meaning to write about it for ages, must do that soon…

    • Interesting your views on Alas, Poor Lady I think that I may need to give this one a whirl.

      I will get to grips with Miss Hargreaves in the future… it better be good as you have praised it so much Simon!

  3. I have an old Virago of The Brontes Went to Woolworths and I was taken aback by just how strange it was…I had expected something completely different from the title! I think it is one of the barmiest books I have ever read…I think the strangest book for me would be Foe by J M Coetzee – I didn’t know where I was by the end!
    Alas Poor Lady is an excellent book about the surplus woman at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries and as Simon says you’d never know it was by the same person who wrote The Brontes Went to Woolworths. I love it and can highly recommend it, though it is very, very sad. Be warned.

    • I can only imagine too well that a book by Coetzee could be a strange and wonderful thing. I thought Summertime was a bit barmy but in a very good way, totally different from the good barminess of this book.

      I agree with you, the title of this book didnt quite match what the story was about, but then how could any title? Definately need to read Alas, Poor Lady… which title sounds like it might match the book greatly.

  4. I have totally avoided reading the majority of your review because I have just ordered this one myself – I will have to come back and read it once I have read the book. Sounds like I am going to love it though!

  5. adevotedreader

    I have a copy of this in my TBR, it sounds wonderful so I will have to start it soon.

    The barmiest book I’ve read is The Bat Tattoo by Russell Hoban- very good but completely unlike anything else I’ve read!

  6. This was very barmy! I read it earlier this year, and struggled a bit with it due to the barminess (and also I was disappointed, because I was hoping for a plot along hte lines of sisters from parsonage don overalls and sell pic and mix)

    • Hahahaha you had similar thoughts to mine when I saw the title! I liked this so much, though at first the loonicy of the book was slightly off putting and boy do you need to concentrate, well worth the effort though.

  7. I am looking forward to reading this book. My mother bought this one for me:)

  8. Pingback: The Bloomsbury Group for Your Book Group? « Savidge Reads

  9. Pingback: The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s, Rachel Ferguson « Jenny's Books

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