Original date of publication: 1931
My edition: 2010 (Bloomsbury Group)
Why I decided to read: Heard about it through LTER
How I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisher, February 2010
As Miss Martin says about the Carne girls, this book is “v. weird.” And yet, I loved it. Right from the very first paragraph, you know you’re going to be in for quite a ride: “How I loathe that kind of novel which is about a lot of sister. It is usually called They Were Sisters, of 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, Any or Pauline? And which of their separated husbands was Lionel, Isobel’s or Amy’s?’”. How can you not continue reading, with an opening like that one? I’m glad to say that the rest of the book is just as witty and funny as that one bit is.
The Brontes Went to Woolworths is told from the point of view of Deirdre, one of the Carne sisters. She’s the journalist and novelist; Katrine is the drama school student; and Sheil (not short for Sheila) is still in the schoolroom with her governess, Miss Martin, who thinks the girls very strange. For the girls have a habit of making up stories, about real people they’ve never met. If they were small children, this wouldn’t be unusual… except for the fact that the two eldest are in their twenties. Again, “v. weird.” The latest subject of their fantasies is Justice Toddington and his wife Mildred. One day, Deirdre actually meets Mildred at a charity bazaar, and the Toddintons become embroiled in the fantasy. But as always, real life intercepts.
In this book, as a reader (and outsider), you often feel like Miss Martin, who never quite knows what’s going on, or what’s real and what isn’t. The girls frequently make fun of her, but I have to say that I completely empathize with her point of view—I’d get fed up with the Carnes’ behavior, too! The book is a bit confusing at times, especially since Deirdre’s narration is a bit ADD—he jumps all over the place in terms of what she talks about, sometimes within the same paragraph. But after a couple of chapters (and the chapters in this book are all very short), I got the hang of her style of talking.
The Brontes Went to Woolworths is a catchy title, of course, but the Bronte bit doesn’t appear until the very end of the book and seems to come from nowhere (as does most of the plot of this book). The Carnes live in a world that is completely disconnected to real life, and it makes this novel a bit hard to follow sometimes. But I think you have to take this book for what it is: a neat, yet surreal, little fantasy.