Review: The Brontës Went to Woolworths

Brontes Went to Woolworths, TheRachel Ferguson, The Brontës Went to Woolworths

This book follows the fortunes of three sisters: Katrine is an actress, Deirdre is a journalist, and Sheil is still in the schoolroom. All three girls have very rich imaginations, and they have populated their world with a host of ficitonal friends, some of whom are based on real people. When the girls’ mother acts as a juror in the courtroom of Judge Toddington, the sisters immediately adopt him and his wife into their circle of imaginary friends. They affectionately nickname him “Toddy” and concoct a wealth of details about his life, from the state of his marriage to his favorite foods. But their world of make-believe collides with reality when Deirdre actually meets Judge Toddington’s wife at a charity event. As she and her sisters get to know Toddy in real life, will they be able to cope with the shattering of their illusions? Are they bound to be disappointed by the flesh-and-blood Toddingtons? And what would Toddy and his wife say if they knew the truth?

This is a strange little book, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, Deirdre and her sisters are a lot of fun, and their flights of fancy are as entertaining as they are ridiculous. I often got confused about what was actually fantasy versus reality — but then again, I think that’s the point. I also loved the actual characters of Judge Toddington and his wife, as distinct from the girls’ fictional narrative about them. They are both very kind people who actually want to become friends with the girls, and when they realize that they are stepping into a pre-existing narrative, they do their best not to disturb the girls’ fun. On the other hand, I couldn’t help being a little put off by the girls themselves. The reader is clearly supposed to sympathize with their flights of fancy, but I couldn’t help identifying a little bit with Sheil’s governess, who is shocked by the magnitude of their fantasy world. These girls are not practical, and they live a wildly sheltered life; I found them quite irritating at times. Still, the book is very charming overall, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes the premise.

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