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Clothes They Stood Up In

Clothes They Stood Up In

3.6 5
by Alan Bennett

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The Ransomes had been burgled. "Robbed," Mrs. Ransome said. "Burgled," Mr. Ransome corrected. Premises were burgled; persons were robbed. Mr. Ransome was a solicitor by profession and thought words mattered. Though "burgled" was the wrong word too. Burglars select; they pick; they remove one item and ignore others. There is a limit to


The Ransomes had been burgled. "Robbed," Mrs. Ransome said. "Burgled," Mr. Ransome corrected. Premises were burgled; persons were robbed. Mr. Ransome was a solicitor by profession and thought words mattered. Though "burgled" was the wrong word too. Burglars select; they pick; they remove one item and ignore others. There is a limit to what burglars can take: they seldom take easy chairs, for example, and even more seldom settees. These burglars did. They took everything.

This swift-moving comic fable will surprise you with its concealed depths. When the sedate Ransomes return from the opera to find their Notting Hill flat stripped absolutely bare—down to the toilet paper off the roll (a hard-to-find shade of forget-me-not blue)—they face a dilemma: Who are they without the things they've spent a lifetime accumulating? Suddenly the world is full of unlimited and frightening possibility. But just as they begin adjusting to this giddy freedom, a newfound interest in sex, and a lack of comfy chairs, a surreal reversal of events causes them to question their assumptions yet again.

The Ransomes' bafflement is the reader's delight. Alan Bennett's gentle but scathing wit, unerring ear for dialogue, and sense of the absurd make The Clothes They Stood Up In a memorable exploration of where in life true riches lie.

Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Here is proof positive that small can be beautiful. The Clothes They Stood Up In is, at 4 by 6 inches in hardcover, smaller than the average mass-market paperback; at 159 very loosely packed pages, it runs to 25,000 words at most. To call it a novella borders on exaggeration. Yet there is more to it—more wit, more complexity and ambiguity, more depth, more sheer pleasure and satisfaction—than there is to just about any new novel of whatever length that I have read since Saul Bellow's Ravelstein or Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay....You will read it in a couple of hours at most, but you will think about it for a long, long time.
Washington Post
Many moviegoers are familiar with Bennett's dazzling screenplays: The Madness of King George, with its collision of baroque wit and unnerving sadness, and Prick Up Your Ears, the darkly comic pop-art tribute to '60s playwright-iconoclast Joe Orton. Now this delightful, consistently entertaining novella, a moral fable served up smartly and subversively, finds Bennett musing about the ways things we own own us. Middle-age barrister Maurice Ransome and his dormouse wife vegetate in modern London until a burglary explodes their tidy life. This is no humdrum housebreaking, either; returning home from the opera they find that every single possession of theirs has vanished. Speedily, Bennett charts the progress of their response: fury, despair and, then, a sort of shivering freedom. Mrs. Ransome savors the best of their new status; she exults in "working through" her loss with the aid of Oprah-style grief counselors she views on afternoon television. An old-fashioned gal, she's new to psychobabble—"I know you must be hurting," her counselor empathizes. "Hurting what?" asks Ms. Ransome—but she gets the hang of it and makes baby steps toward her own emancipation. Maurice, the typically calcified male, fares worse. But his deliverance, too, is instructive. He may learn nothing, but we do.
—Paul Evans

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When life is pared down to the bare essentials, one can grow spiritually--or shrink into one's basic instincts. Though profound statements as such are not to be found in British playwright Bennett's charmingly subversive and very amusing cautionary tale, his characters illustrate the principle in surprising ways. Mr. and Mrs. Ransome return to their London flat after a performance of Cos fan tutte (Mozart's comic opera about changing identities) to find the place totally stripped. Even the casserole left warming in the oven is gone, along with the oven, all other appliances and every stitch of clothing. Mr. Ransome, a stodgy, misanthropic solicitor who is fussy about correct diction, is mainly concerned about the loss of his CD player and the earphones with which he has always insulated himself from his wife. Formerly cowed and repressed, Mrs. Ransome is surprised at her pleasure in replacing their lost possessions with a few inexpensive items. The burglary liberates her personality, allowing her to inch cautiously toward new interpersonal connections--first with an Asian grocer, then with the man who, the Ransomes eventually discover, has been living with their furniture and clothing in a storage facility, then with another man who holds the key to the bizarre thievery. Her social awakening occurs in counterpoint with her husband's more selfish gratifications, until a funny and fitting denouement permanently turns the tables between them. Bennett carries off his terse, surreal comedy with witty aplomb, adding to risibility with apt comments about the foibles of contemporary society and the consumer economy. (Feb. 8) Forecast: English readers familiar with Bennett's plays (The Madness of George III, etc.) snatched up this novella to the tune of 140,ooo copies. The premise of being left without any possessions is provocative enough to entice readers on these shores, and the small size of the volume (4x 6) reinforces the idea that simplicity can be liberating. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
British playwright Bennett here proves himself to be a master of fiction as well. Rosemary and Maurice, long-married but childless, return from a night at the opera to find that they have been divested of all their possessions--right down to the toilet paper holder. Months later, they find that their habitat had been meticulously re-created in a storage facility. Ostensibly, the story involves finding out the who and the why of such an extraordinary chain of events, but it also exposes the abrasions and contusions, the fabrications and evasions that are common to many marriages. Rosemary is an immediately lovable character. Her innocence and her responses are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but her attempts to improve her marriage are also very poignant. This charming novel deserves a place in all fiction collections; one can only hope that Americans will receive it as warmly as their counterparts did. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/00.]--Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Michiko Kakutani
Mr. Bennett, the author of such critically acclaimed plays as "Talking Heads" and "The Madness of George III" and the charming nonfiction collection "Writing Home," narrates these events with easy aplomb, expertly orchestrating the mystery of how the Ransomes' possessions disappeared (and just as magically resurfaced), even as he recounts Mrs. Ransome's struggles to invent a new life for herself in the face of her husband's disapproval. Though "Clothes" lacks the emotional chiaroscuro of "Talking Heads," though it's less resonant than his memoir-turned-play, "The Lady in the Van," it nonetheless stands as a completely charming entertainment: a small gem by one of Britain's most versatile and gifted writers.
New York Times
From the Publisher
"Few write sharper dialogue or probe more tellingly into the frailties and occasional strengths of the human psyche than Alan Bennett. None knows more about getting each scene just right or is as consistently witty."
—William Trevor

"Full of jolly, broad, and very English humour...a charm-filled holiday read."
—Alain de Botton, author of On Love and How Proust Can Change Your Life

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

The Ransomes had been burgled. "Robbed," Mrs. Ransome said. "Burgled,"Mr. Ransome corrected. Premises were burgled; persons were robbed. Mr. Ransome was a solicitor by profession and thought words mattered. Though "burgled" was the wrong word too. Burglars select; they pick; they remove one item and ignore others. There is a limit to what burglars can take: they seldom take easy chairs, for example, and even more seldom settees. These burglars did. They took everything.

The Ransomes had been to the opera, to Così fan tutte (or Così as Mrs. Ransome had learned to call it). Mozart played an important part in their marriage. They had no children and but for Mozart would probably have split up years ago. Mr. Ransome always took a bath when he came home from
work and then he had his supper. After supper he took another bath, this time in Mozart. He wallowed in Mozart; he luxuriated in him; he let the little Viennese soak away all the dirt and disgustingness he had had to sit through in his office all day. On this particular evening he had been to the public baths, Covent Garden, where their seats were immediately behind the Home Secretary. He too was taking a bath and washing away the cares of his day, cares, if only in the form of a statistic, that were about to include the Ransomes.

On a normal evening, though, Mr. Ransome shared his bath with no one, Mozart coming personalized via his headphones and a stack of complex and finely balanced stereo equipment that Mrs. Ransome was never allowed to touch. She blamed the stereo for the burglary as that was what the robbers were probably after in the first place. The theft of stereos is common; the theft of fitted carpets is not.

"Perhaps they wrapped the stereo in the carpet,"said Mrs. Ransome.

Mr. Ransome shuddered and said her fur coat was more likely, whereupon Mrs. Ransome started crying again.

It had not been much of a Così. Mrs. Ransome could not follow the plot and Mr. Ransome, who never tried, found the performance did not compare with the four recordings he possessed of
the work. The acting he invariably found distracting. "None of them knows
what to do with their arms," he said to his wife in the interval. Mrs. Ransome thought it probably went further than their arms but did not say so. She was wondering if the casserole she had left in the oven
would get too dry at Gas Mark 4. Perhaps 3 would have been better. Dry it may well have been but there was no need to have worried. The thieves took the oven and the casserole with it.

The Ransomes lived in an Edwardian block of flats the color of ox blood not far from Regent's Park. It was handy for the City, though Mrs. Ransome would have preferred something farther out, seeing herself with a trug in a garden, vaguely. But she was not gifted in that direction. An African violet that her cleaning lady had given her at Christmas had finally given up the ghost that very morning and she had been forced to hide it in the wardrobe out of Mrs. Clegg's way. More wasted effort. The wardrobe had
gone too.

They had no neighbors to speak of, or seldom to. Occasionally they ran into people in the lift and both parties would smile cautiously. Once they had asked some newcomers on their floor around to sherry, but he had turned out to be what he called "a big band freak" and she had been a dental receptionist with a time-share in Portugal, so one way and another it had been an awkward evening and they had never repeated the experience. These days the turnover of tenants seemed increasingly rapid and the lift more and more wayward. People were always moving in and out again, some of them Arabs.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Alan Bennett's television series Talking Heads has become a modern-day classic, as have many of his works for the stage, including Forty Years On, The Lady in the Van, The Madness of George III (together with the Oscar-nominated screenplay The Madness of King George) and an adaptation of The Wind in the Willows. The History Boys won the Evening Standard and Critics' Circle awards for Best Play, The Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play and the South Bank Award.

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The Clothes They Stood Up In 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Purchased for $0.99, so not a big risk - but this is more a short story. An odd little one at that, and worth the brief time it took to read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can we just try and include the# of pages in our reviews?I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record but it would be so helpful and it just takes a second.
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