Book Review: The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett

The Clothes They Stood Up In
by Alan Bennett
Out-of-print hardcover: 9780375503061
Paperback: The Clothes They Stood Up In and the Lady in the Van, 9780812969658, Random House, $14

Why, you might ask, did I give you the out-of-print hardcover edition ISBN? Because it’s such a great size – at about 8 inches tall and 5.5 inches wide, this book can be easily slipped into a small purse, backpack, or cargo shorts pocket. Much like the last book I blogged about – the tall, thin, apartment building-esque Keys to the City – the unconventional format is half the draw.

The Clothes They Stood Up In is about the Ransomes, a British husband and wife living in Notting Hill, who arrive home one day to find everything in their apartment is gone, including the furniture, the fitted carpet, and the roll of toilet paper (a hard-to-find shade of forget-me-not blue). The rest of the novel is spent watching Mr. and Mrs. Ransome deal with the outcome of this in their own ways. Mr. Ransome, a solicitor, takes refuge in filling out the insurance forms for a bigger and better sound system than the one stolen; he is a great lover of Mozart. Mrs. Ransome, a housewife, begins to redefine herself by the new possessions she brings into the home, purchased at local shops she had never visited before.

Mostly funny, occasionally sad, often poignant, this little book packs a punch in the range of emotions it evokes as you watch the couple struggle separately and together to come to terms with the loss of all their worldly goods. When their belongings are returned to them just as mysteriously as they were taken, a whole new set of questions must be asked about who would do such a thing and what that means for the Ransomes.

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