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Review: Told By An Idiot, by Rose Macaulay

Pages: 315

Original date of publication: 1923

My edition: 1983 (Virago)

Why I decided to read: Heard about this through the Virago Modern Classics list

How I acquired my copy: Ebay, July 2010

Told By An Idiot is the story of one family from 1880 through the early 1920s. Mr. Garden is a clergyman who frequently switches faiths; then there’s his wife, who quietly devotes herself to her family; and then there are their six unusually-named children, who are adults (or nearly so) when the novel opens.

Times, they are a’changin’. That’s essentially the theme of the novel as we watch the Garden family grow and mature. We watch the younger generation marry and have children; and then we watch their children grow up, too. This book is not only an interesting look at one family, but the times in which they live at the end of the 19th century, how things change, and how the Garden family reacts to it. I feel as though the author used this novel to comment, albeit subtly and satirically, on the times. She focuses mostly on the fin de si├Ęcle period, jumping over WWI (since it was still so much in everyone’s minds anyways at the time the book was written).

Macaulay’s comments on late-19th and early 20th century life are never pedantic; I loved her wry sense of humor and insightful comments on her characters and the period in which they lived. My favorite quote in this book, from which the book gets its title, pretty much sums up the whole book: “Life was to [Rome] at this time more than ever a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.” It’s an interesting take on events that had so much of an impact on people. Rome Garden is perhaps the only one of the family who chooses to watch things from the sidelines, and so we kind of see things from her point of view. I’m not expressing it quite the way I want to, by Rose Macaulay’s message hit home for me. This is an absolutely stunning book, recommended to anyone who enjoys reading about this period in history.


Willa said…
Sounds like an enchanting book.
I'm glad to her such a positive review about this book. I've been going through a Sophie Kinsella withdrawal - I honestly didn't think she'd have another book this soon after hearing she had her 4th baby!
My wife and I are reading "Told by an Idiot" now, and are loving it.

We loved the other things we read by her, also.

We've just come to the part where the guru of Higher Thinking kept praying too long for the fellow with the uneven length legs, until the length of the shorter one outstripped that of the longer one, and kept on growing. Hilarious!

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