Book Review: The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson

The Brontes Went to Woolworths
Rachel Ferguson

The Brontes Went to Woolworths is the rather quirky tale of the Carne family’s prodigious creativity. Despite one daughter’s attempt at being a novelist, and another’s quest to be an actress, the Carnes don’t really have much in the way of productive outlets for the output of their endlessly spinning minds. Between the four of them (mother plus three daughters) they have created a web of imaginary relationships with people they don’t really know. That is, until one day they actually get to know two of their imagined friends. Thankfully for the Carne family their quarry is interested in playing along.

The Brontes Went to Woolworths was definitely an enjoyable read, but I really think you need to be in the mood for something so whimsical it borders on nonsense. Despite some of its rather edgy subject matter (for 1931) the book feels somewhat saccharine. Like a mix of Waugh and Wodehouse but without being very clever. One could imagine a room full of Hollywood studio types turning this quirky, sweet tale into a thriller about a family of psychotics stalking a judge and his wife. In that tale someone would no doubt end up dead or in jail. No such outcome in this book.

Don’t get me wrong, there were many enjoyable moments reading The Brontes Went to Woolworths. I think I just wasn’t in the mood for that much whimsy. It is also entirely possible that I may have missed the point. It wouldn’t be the first time a meta-narrative went over my head.

For a more sensitive and substantive take on the book check out Dovegreyreader Scribbles.

13 thoughts on “Book Review: The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson

  1. Vintage Reading December 7, 2009 / 9:28 pm

    I've not read this, but I don't have much taste for whimsy either. I wasn't keen on the Persephone title Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day because it struck me as too frothy.

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  2. Book pusher December 8, 2009 / 6:11 am

    I was intrigued by the title of this, so I might give it a try.
    On UD, bought the 2nd season because I gave my Mum the first season on video a few years ago, my daughter will spend quality time with her Gran catching up on those episodes after xmas. We loved the 2nd season and I agree when the King comes to dinner is a great episode, what with Sarah's little drama.

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  3. Rachel (Book Snob) December 8, 2009 / 6:44 am

    Yes I wasn't a huge fan of this either. It was one of the first Virago paperbacks I bought, and I thought it was something to do with the Brontes so I picked it up because I was writing my dissertation on the Brontes at the time. I was disappointed with it – it was very whimsical, as you say, as well as being just a bit absurd for my liking. It's not really my cup of tea. I am surprised that it has such a cult following!

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  4. Thomas at My Porch December 8, 2009 / 7:47 am

    Vintage Reader: Funny you should mention Miss Pettigrew, I refuse to read the book because of the movie. I love France McDormand but not in that film.

    Book Pusher: Well the Sarah drama is interesting and well done, but it is the dinner prep that I love so much about that episode. I always joke with my friends that I would be happy watching a costume drama of Bristish people buttering toast.

    Rachel: To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: for those that like this kind of thing, it's the kind of thing they like.

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  5. Paperback Reader December 8, 2009 / 8:27 am

    Here's hoping your Persephone Secret Santa hasn't sent you Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day!

    I liked this but I didn't love it even though I had expected to. I can do whimsical but for the first half of the book I wasn't entirely sure what was going on. It is quirky and charming and I will reread it at some point in the attempt to understand it. I had bought it because the Virago copy was so rare and I became a little obsessed about “having to have it” and then read it a few months after finding a copy when Woolworths UK went bust.

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  6. Thomas at My Porch December 8, 2009 / 9:11 am

    Paperback Reader: No, my secret santa did not give me Pettigrew…but I think you know that. Even though we are supposed to blog about it on the 15th, I have already opened mine. But it is funny you should mention it because it was the one title I was really hoping NOT to get from my secret santa. Phew. Next year I might need to specify that.

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  7. verity December 8, 2009 / 10:54 am

    Oh, don't dismiss Miss Pettigrew – it is a charming book! The film doesn't do it justice.

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  8. Frances December 8, 2009 / 2:42 pm

    As I am all about whimsy and nonsense, this book seems right for me. And it is purple. In a lovely way. One really does not see enough purple books. Not suspecting meta-narrative here, but agree that maybe you were just not in the mood as you suggest. Seems one of those bridge books between heftier tomes.

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  9. StuckInABook December 9, 2009 / 8:39 pm

    I thought this was fun, but for a more sombre Rachel Ferguson, go for the Persephone book Alas, Poor Lady. Depending on what mood I'm in, I vastly prefer one or the other…

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  10. Thomas at My Porch December 9, 2009 / 9:19 pm

    Verity: You are probably right about Pettigrew the book v. the movie.

    Nonsense: I will keep my eye out for purple/lavendar books for you.

    Simon T: I will have to look into her other work.

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  11. Nan December 10, 2009 / 1:18 pm

    I tried to read this years ago, and couldn't do it. I really didn't like it. Even the title just seemed derived to make the reader think the book was something special (if that makes a bit of sense!).

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  12. Nan December 10, 2009 / 1:26 pm

    Thomas, So many people said to watch the movie, and I tried, but I hated Miss P. but really liked the book. I had a little movie in my own mind, and the caricature that I saw was so horrible. It reminded me of two other movies I hated because they seemed so out there – Babe (though again I love the book), with those garish colors and fake looking scenery and houses, and Nanny McPhee for the same reasons.

    Here's my review of the book, if you want to read it:

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2009/01/miss-pettigrew-lives-for-day-by.html

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  13. Thomas at My Porch December 10, 2009 / 6:36 pm

    Nan: Well, even without a predjudice against it, Pettigrew is pretty far down my list of Persephones. I probably have 40 or so that appeal to me more. But, who am I kidding, the film has poisoned me…I am sure one day I will give the book a chance.

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