Friday, September 17, 2010
The Old Wives Tale: A Forgotten Treasure for BBAW
See, I was right. I'd never heard of it either, and then a few years ago I decided to try and read all the Modern Library Top 100 books (which is a misleading title: it's actually the Top 100 Books of the 20th Century. Though it was selected in 1990s. Go figure). Anyway, this book made the list at #87 (above Call of the Wild and Midnight's Children!) and I was poking around the library one day before a Christmas trip and, on a whim, I decided to take it along.
I was so pleasantly surprised, it was wonderful! Published in 1908, it spans 70 years from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s in England and France. It's the story of two sisters, Sophie and Constance, who are raised in an industrial town in the north. (Bennett wrote other books in his fictional Five Towns, which are based on the Pottery towns near Stoke-on-Trent). Their mother owns a draper's shop, and the story follows the very different lives of the two sisters from their youth through old age.
I expected this to be a difficult Victorian-style read, but it wasn't, not in the least. It was quick and absorbing, with none of the flowery language or convoluted plots I was anticipating. I suppose it would be considered an early neo-Victorian since most of it is set during that period. It was an easy and fast read -- it's about 600 pages long and I think I read it all in two days (though I did spend a fair amount of time in airports).
Arnold Bennett wrote quite a few books, including a non-fiction work called How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, an early self-help book, but most of them are out of print. Well, at least this one is still available though I doubt many bookstores carry it on a regular basis -- if you wanted to buy it you'd probably have to order it online. My library here in Texas doesn't even have this book, sigh. However, the nearby community college has several of Bennett's other works, which I have just added to my ever-growing to-read list. If you're interested in the Victorian period but have fear of Victorian writers, I highly recommend this book.