Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett

I am just like a crow - any new shiny thing that catches my eye I grab on to and bring back to the nest.

In this most recent case, the glittery object was, no surprise here, a book: The Clothes They Stood Up In (1996) by Alan Bennett. 

It appeared out of nowhere (most likely in an Amazon promotional e-mail) and because I found Mr. Bennett's An Uncommon Reader so delightful, I checked the library catalog and sure enough it had this one on the shelf. Before I knew it, I had put other reading aside and was curled up in my chair this morning sipping coffee and reading this funny little gem.

And I do mean little. The book itself only measures 5-by-7 inches and Mr. Bennett tells this story - his first novel - in 160 pages. I read it between breakfast and lunch.

The tale concerns Mr. and Mrs. Ransome who come home from the opera one evening to find their London flat empty. They have been "robbed" as Mrs. Ransome exclaims or "burgled" as Mr. Ransome corrects. Premises were burgled; persons were robbed. (Mr. R spends a lot of his life correcting not only his wife but everyone in general.)

All possessions are gone: the chairs and tables, the fitted carpet, the stereo, the casserole that had been cooking in the oven, the oven,  and even the blue toilet paper rolls.

Mrs. R weeps. Mr. R goes out to find a phone to call the police. The police, not very sympathetic to the Ransome's plight, arrive, take a few notes, and depart. 

The Ransome's are adrift. They wander about like I do when the power is out and I enter a room and hit the light switch and wonder for a split-second why the room remains dark. 

Mrs. R decides to make a list of provisions to buy but realizes she has not paper nor pen. Her husband goes to work and she leaves the apartment and becomes better acquainted with her neighborhood.  She talks to a counselor from the police department who is sent to help her find peace with the loss of her things. She rents a television and begins to watch daytime talk shows where she learns about an entirely different world than the one she has spent 50 years living in. She discovers the corner store owned by an Asian grocer and begins to shop there.

In short, she starts to look at life through a different lens - one in which she has been liberated, in more ways than one, from 'stuff.'

A lot goes on in this small tale. Some of it will make you laugh, some of it will make you nod your head in agreement, some of it will make you sigh sadly. 

But at at the risk of writing more words about this book than even make up the book, I will end this post here.


  1. It's been awhile since I discovered this little book at our library. At the moment I can't remember if I went looking for it or if I was just browsing. It's fun to find a book like that once in awhile. BTW I have finished Life Among the Savages and enjoyed it! Our library is "home library" for the SE KS Library System and part of a consortium made up of many small libraries in this part of the state. I've usually been able to find any book I look for, including The Shape of the Year which is waiting for me now. Joyce F

    1. Hi Joyce. It sounds like you have a wonderful library system. I do too, but sometimes the folks get a little zealous in culling books. That's when the inter-library loan program comes in handy. It usually takes a while to get the book, but I am always grateful that it is available from somewhere.

      Glad you enjoyed "Savages." What a creative mind Ms. Jackson had to write both humor and horror.

  2. What an interesting sounding book - I've seen copies about a lot, but I didn't know what it was about. I loved The Uncommon Reader and The History Boys, and have been intending to read more Bennett - so thanks so much for this enticing review!

    1. I am becoming quite an Alan Bennett fan. He has a long literary history (as I am finding out) and has a way of putting his characters in unusual situations and letting them become different people. Such a funny guy.

  3. Dear Belle, you have me wanting to read this. It is now on my TBR list.