heaven_ali (heaven_ali) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

#3 The Brontes Went to Woolworths - Rachel Ferguson (1931)

As growing up in pre-war London looms large in the lives of the Carne sisters, Deirdre, Katrine and young Sheil still share an insatiable appetite for the fantastic. Eldest sister Deirdre is a journalist, Katrine a fledgling actress and young Sheil is still with her governess; together they live a life unchecked by their mother in their bohemian town house. Irrepressibly imaginative, the sisters cannot resist making up stories as they have done since childhood; from their talking nursery toys, Ironface the Doll and Dion Saffyn the pierrot, to their fulsomely-imagined friendship with real high-court Judge Toddington who, since Mrs Carne did jury duty, they affectionately called Toddy. However, when Deirdre meets Toddy's real-life wife at a charity bazaar, the sisters are forced to confront the subject of their imaginings. Will the sisters cast off the fantasies of childhood forever? Will Toddy and his wife, Lady Mildred, accept these charmingly eccentric girls? And when fancy and reality collide, who can tell whether Ironface can really talk, whether Judge Toddington truly wears lavender silk pyjamas or whether the Brontes did indeed go to Woolworths?

This novel I found enjoyable and confusing in equal measure. I read this in an old Virago VMC edition the jacket of which does not contain such a fulsome synopsis like that which is available on Amazon. In this way the reader is allowed to be confused at the beginning - sorting out what is real and what is not - and seeing as some of the characters have trouble with this it does get puzzling. This I am sure was the original intention of the author - and it does make it fun! This mix of fantasy and reality is utterly mad, and very charming.
The Carne sisters, and their mother live a fantasy life in the midst of their real existence - Katrine is an aspiring actress, Diedre a journalist, their eleven year old sister Sheil is in the rather pitiful control of troubled governess, Miss Martin - who is driven rather mad herself by the stories and make believe. The women's lives are enhanced by their "friends", some imagined - like Ironface the doll, some real people whom they've never met - and yet they know all about them, what they do, what they eat, what they say etc. When Diedre meets the real life "Lady Mildred" and "Toddy" the objects of the Carne's "Saga" reality and make believe begin to merge. This is a delightful read, quirky and a little bonkers.

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