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After having adored The Uncommon Reader, we decided to deepen the knowledge of Alan Bennett by reading The Clothes They Stood Up In. This ninety-page book is a real beauty that made us laugh, while reflecting on aspects of life that sometimes we take for granted. Bennett has confirmed his incredible ability to talk about daily life with irony and in a detailed way, managing to unveil the human soul and its conflicts, even the most ferocious ones.

Discovering Alan Bennett

Doing some research on Alan Bennett, we have noticed that this eclectic and smart British writer (but also playwright, screenwriter and actor) is not that famous in Italy. Although his books in Italy are published by Adelphi and internationally his works are hugely acclaimed, the reader of Bennett in Italy remains a niche reader, who is passionate about his works and would like them to be endless, only to discover that the translated titles are half of those written. Is not this a great loss for Italian readers? We think it is indeed. After reading two of his several books we are totally enchanted by his sincerity, his attention to details and by a humor (wonderfully British) that makes you laugh without being trivial and superficial.

As he said during an interview for the Italian launch of  The Clothes They Stood Up In, “being very precise in the choice of language is part of the work of the writer. And keeping your instruments in order is very important.”

When mankind is (only apparently) normal

While reading The Clothes They Stood Up In, we realise how the strength of Bennett’s prose lies in a detailed and precise analysis of the characters, of their lives and weaknesses, without hypocrisy, revealing how behind an apparent normality hide completely different worlds, unimaginable and sometimes even cruel.

The couple described in this short novel seems a typical English middle-class couple. He is a solicitor, she is a housewife (a little frustrated). He is close-minded and grumpy, precise and methodical, with a huge passion for Mozart. She is bored, empty and trapped in her bourgeois life. Nothing can scratch their ordinary lives, as long as the “crime” happens: their house is completely burgled (“thieves” do not even leave toilet paper).

“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.”The fact is that the Ransomes have been cleaned out. Everything has gone, even the toilet paper; and for the stuffy solicitor and his downtrodden wife it marks a turning point, a kind of liberation. Nothing will ever be quite the same, even when their possessions mysteriously turn up again, exactly as they left them… Sad and funny, poignant and perceptive, this is Bennett at his brilliant best.”

ReadingThe Clothes They Stood Up In

This “tragic” event gives the English author the opportunity to unveil all the secrets and sins of the impeccable solicitor, highlighting the true nature of the “desperate” housewife, while investigating the relationship of the protagonists. Two lives that seemed perfectly normal are revealed for what they are: the opposite of what they appeared. Because if it is true that appearance is deceiving, it is equally true that reality amazes us!

Bennett’s elegant and sharp writing cannot leave indifferent; however, we must admit that at the beginning there was a bit of skepticism, and we waited a while to read his first book, and even more to read the second one (for fear that the expectations arising from the first reading could be disappointed). With The Clothes They Stood Up In, the writer from Leeds has truly captured our attention and now we can only read another of his works as soon as possible. 

Do you have any advice on the next reading?

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