on April 26, 2004
This is a book the encompasses two short stories that at first glance may seem totally unrelated but, in fact, are very similar.
In the first story a couple is robbed of all their earthly possessions except for what they are wearing. What happens when all your "things" are missing? How is your life defined by the things that surround you? How are your possibilities limited? These are some of the questions that are explored.
In the second tale, an elderly woman lives her life completely out of her van, everything she owns is packed into the van. Is she more free than those who have more material possessions or is her life limited by this lack of personal property??
With these two unique looks into the lives of two very divergent lifestyles the author opens up the world of possibility and contentment that people seek to achieve.
on May 20, 2003
The first of two works "The Clothes They Stood Up In" concerns a couple who come home to find everything they own has dissapeared from their home. The husband and wife experience different emotions relating to their loss and later recovery of their belongings. For Mrs Ransome the events mark a new beginning, for Mr Ransome the effects are equally marked but significantly less pleasing. A witty story that delves quietly into relationships and suppresion almost without you realizing it, worth the price on it's own. The Lady in the Van is the documentary of a non comformist woman who lives in a van, or to be more precise several vans. Over time she and her van migrate into the authors garden, where she constantly berates him despite his efforts to help her. While extremely funny the story is quite graphic as it details our heroines struggle to fit into society and the frailty of the elderly when they have no support mechanism. A superb blend of comedy and illumination, Bennett brings the unseen element of society under our noses and gently nudges our concience to acknowledge it. Overall an excellent book well worth the investment in both money and time,
on September 17, 2002
"The Clothes They Stood Up In" are all Mr. and Mrs. Ransome have left when they return to their London apartment after spending the evening at the opera. That's because they've been robbed -- well, burgled, as Mr. Ransome points out. People are robbed, premises are burgled.
And the Ransomes have been burgled down to the floorboards. Everything is gone. Not just the minor valuables like the jewelry Mrs. Ransome had, and the almost-but-not-quite state-of-the-art stereo system Mr. Ransome used to listen to his beloved Mozart, are missing. The rugs are gone, and the furniture that sat on top of them. The kitchen appliances are gone, as is the casserole Mrs. Ransome had in the oven to be ready for them when they returned from "Cosi fan tutti." The burglars even made off with the toilet paper roll that was on the spindle in the loo.
This slim, compact tale is the first work of fiction Bennett has published, although he's been writing for some 40 years. He's close to being a national literary treasure in his native England, for his plays like "A Question of Attribution" and "An Englishman Abroad," television programs like the series of monologues titled "Talking Heads" (some of which were broadcast as a part of "Masterpiece Theater" in the U.S.), films like "A Private Function" and "The Madness of King George."
"The Clothes They Stood Up In" has all the hallmarks of Bennett's work. It's concise and understated the story takes less time to read than you need to listen to, well, to "Cosi fan tutti." It's suffused with a gentle wit that occasionally rises to passages of laugh-out-loud hilarity. It also reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the characters with a mix of compassion and unflinching honesty.
Those weaknesses quickly become apparent. Mr. Ransome tries to ignore the situation, determined to go about his work as if nothing has happened. He does plan, once the police arrive and ask for an inventory of stolen objects, to inflate the quality of his stolen stereo system, so he can use the insurance money to purchase an even better set- up, the better to pursue he quest for the perfect Mozart performance.
Mrs. Ransome, on the other hand, has been completely knocked out of her orbit. The little routines around the apartment that made up her life are gone; she has to venture out to new stores, buy items she's never had to think about buying before.
The Ransome's slowly start building back their lives, when they receive a bill from a storage facility for an extraordinary sum. The couple investigate, and find that one of the storage units contains their old furnishings -- all kept meticulously in place and in working order, as if the interior of their apartment had suddenly materialized whole.
All except for the casserole, of course.
But then, "The Clothes They Stood Up In" is not a whodunit -- you learn in time who did the stealing and why, and it's about as absurd a resolution as the initial theft was a preposterous crime. The questions this story asks go a lot deeper: Who are you, really, if all you have is the clothes you're wearing? How much is your life defined by the things you gather around yourself? What sort of connections have you made to the people with whom you share your life, much less with world around you? What does it take to be happy?
These are questions Mr. and Mrs. Ransome never ask themselves; they simply act out their answers, as their story gently, carefully, gracefully works its way to a conclusion that is at once profoundly sad and genuinely hopeful.
In that way, "The Clothes They Stood Up In" is a lot like the music of Mozart -- a bright, cheery surface that accentuates rather than hides the profound, sobering depths of emotion. It's a story you will return to again and again.
on June 5, 2003
What a delightful find--these two short stories challenge the reader to think about the meaning of material possessions and what constitutes a home.
The first short story, "The Clothes They Stood Up In," tells of a well-heeled London couple who return to their flat to find everything gone. Everything, even the toilet paper roll--The story chronicles their journey through their stages of grief over the loss of their assets and in many ways, their mutual life.
The second short story is actually true. Bennett, the author, tells the unusual story of a homeless London woman whose van was parked in his driveway for more than fifteen years. At times, it is poignant, humorous, and profound.
The two pieces together make a significant statement on materialism in today's world.
I would recommend this book to individuals who cherish the subtleties of British humor and to those who like short pieces with provocative ideas.
on December 16, 2002
Bennett gives us two totally different stories -- one fiction, one true. In "CLOTHES," the characters lose absolutely everything and turn out to have surprising reactions to the crime. It leaves you thinking. Yet the characters are almost cartoon-like, as if it's all a dream. In "LADY," Bennett presents one of the most interesting characters in literature -- definitely unlikable, but really fascinating.
What does it mean to have nothing? What do you have left when you have "nothing"? Bennett's a great comic writer, but I wouldn't say hilarity abounds in either of these stories. Rather, there's more subtle humor, irony. Warning: DO NOT read the introduction first. It gives away the major plot points, which are most delightful only when they sneak up on you as you read the stories themselves. Whatever you do, don't miss "THE LADY IN THE VAN."
on February 11, 2004
The first part of the book is a short story, "The clothes they stood up in". A middle-class London couple come home one night to find that their flat has been completely emptied, right down to the toilet roll, and the story describes the effect this loss has on their relationship (such as it is).
The second part, "The lady in the van", is Bennett's account of his relationship (again, such as it is) with a homeless woman who for several years lived in a van parked at first on his street and eventually in his own garden.
While the notes and reviews lead one to expect, as one person put it, "jolly, broad and very English humour", beneath the humour both stories were in fact very sad, about people leading incomplete lives, Bennett himself included. This book is a thought-provoking and worthwhile read.
on March 18, 2004
A study on materialism and objects (or lack thereof) this witty, fresh new book was just what the doctor ordered.
From the same author that brought us THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE, Alan Bennett is a master at combining literary greatness with wonderful storytelling. This is a highly unusual tale, guaranteed to bring you enjoyment and a few smiles.
The second story in this "collection," THE LADY IN THE VAN is a modern continuation of the theme explored in the first story. The wit, humor, deftly-drawn characters remind me of those created by McCrae in his BARK OF THE DOGWOOD or possibly those by Boyle (think WATER MUSIC or DROP CITY). At any rate, this is a true gem, not to be missed.
Also recommended: BARK OF THE DOGWOOD and THE FOREST LOVER
on December 9, 2002
The Clothes They Stood Up in and The Lady in the Van are two very charming, very witty works--one is a novella, the other an extended essay about a most unusual woman Alan Bennett was acquainted with for many years. The novella concerns a couple whose possessions are all taken from them--all but the clothes on their back. The essay concerns an eccentric woman who lived in a van on Bennett's property. Both pieces are very funny and both ruminate on the nature of possessions and acquisitiveness effectively. These are enjoyable, breezy works.