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The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van (Today Show Book Club #5) Paperback – November 1, 2002

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The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van (Today Show Book Club #5) + The Uncommon Reader: A Novella
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Today Show Book Club edition (November 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812969650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812969658
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“[The Clothes They Stood Up In is an] absolutely delicious, near perfect little book. You will read it in a couple of hours at most, but you will think about it for a long, long time.”
-Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World

“[The Clothes They Stood Up In is] a completely charming entertainment: a small gem by one of Britain’s most versatile and gifted writers.”
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“One of the top ten books of 2001.”
-Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World

“Full of jolly, broad, and very English humour...a charm-filled holiday read.”
-Alain de Botton

“Sharp...a happy evening’s read and a tantalizing mental challenge to those of us who, like the Ransomes, find [our] lives encumbered and [our] senses blunted by too much stuff.”
-Brooke Allen, The New York Times Book Review

From the Inside Flap

From Alan Bennett, the author of The Madness of King George, come two stories about the strange nature of possessions...or the lack of them. In the nationally bestselling novel The Clothes They Stood Up In, the staid Ransomes return from the opera to find their Regent?s Park flat stripped bare--right down to the toilet-paper roll. Free of all their earthly belongings, the couple faces a perplexing question: Who are they without the things they?ve spent a lifetime accumulating? Suddenly a world of unlimited, frightening possibility opens up before them.

In ?The Lady in the Van,? which The Village Voice called ?one of the finest bursts of comic writing the twentieth century has produced,? Bennett recounts the strange life of Miss Shepherd, a London eccentric who parked her van (overstuffed with decades? worth of old clothes, oozing batteries, and kitchen utensils still in their original packaging) in the author?s driveway for more than fifteen years. A mesmerizing portrait of an outsider with an acquisitive taste and an indomitable spirit, this biographical essay is drawn with equal parts fascination and compassion.

More About the Author

Alan Bennett is a renowned playwright and essayist, a succession of whose plays have been staged at the Royal National Theatre and whose screenplay for The Madness of King George was nominated for an Academy Award. He made his first stage appearance with Beyond the Fringe and his latest play was The Lady in the Van with Maggie Smith. Episodes from his award-winning Talking Heads series have been shown on PBS. His first novel, The Clothes They Stood Up In, was published in 2000. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

I love Alan Bennett's voice.
Carlos Allende
The essay (compiled from newspaper columns he wrote) is honest ... not saccharine at all.
Ms. L.
Two long short stories are in this quirky little book.
Debnance at Readerbuzz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Mary G. Longorio VINE VOICE on February 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Poor Maurice and Rosemary Ransome return home from the opera and discover their flat has been burglarized and everything has been taken. The dinner that was left warming in the oven, the furniture, the telephones even the toilet paper has been taken. After trying to convey the thouroughness of the robbery to the police (in an uncomfortable public phone booth , no less) Mr. Ransome returns to his empty house to wait with his wife...while waiting he notices not only the drapes but the curtain rings are gone! This slender British novel wittily and adeptly poses the question " What would you do, Who would you be, if everything was taken?". The Ransomes deal with the police (who proffer no hope of recovering their gear), the insurance company (however, EVERYTHING is gone, including the copy of their insurance policy) and wait for some semblance of normal to be restored in their lives. A few creature comforts are obtained to replace the many and then the tale takes a remarkable turn. This is a delightful tale, full of humor and with remarkable insight on people and their possessions. I have given my first copy away and have already reread the replacement book! A must have.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Richards HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
There are two stories in this slim package, both dealing with people’s relationships with their possessions.

In the first, Mr. and Mrs. Ransome return from the opera to find their flat totally empty. The casserole has disappeared along with the oven, and even the toilet paper’s gone. Mr. Ransome mostly misses his stereo equipment (and of course the toilet paper) but cheers up when he remembers that he can upgrade his technology with the insurance refund.

Mrs. Ransome quickly gets over her shock, and begins shopping for the bare essentials to tide them over until the insurance cheque arrives. During this exercise, she rediscovers the simple things and learns that life without all her accumulated baggage isn’t that bad after all.

When the mystery is revealed, Mrs. Ransome has a whole new outlook on life, and although her husband has also changed, he hasn’t evolved as much as she has. This is a story with some very funny bits, but also with some important messages for all of us.

The other (shorter) story is about an eccentric woman who makes her home in a van, surrounded by everything she owns. Also very funny, it is so rich in description that your nose turns up whenever the author takes you inside the van.

If you’re looking for an entertaining read, and don’t feel like tackling a whole book, this one is highly recommended.

Amanda Richards, April 1, 2006
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Lee LS Rice on May 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Ever since his days as part of 'Beyond The Fringe' in 1960, Alan Bennett has continued to hold a valued position in the affections of the British public. His 1987 collection of monologues, 'Talking Heads' are classics of the genre and in 1995 he was even nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay, 'The Madness Of King George'. 'The Clothes They Stood Up In' is a further testament to his popularity. Appearing first in 'The London Review Of Books', Bennett later read the story on Radio 4, a performance later released on cassette. Now it has been published in a volume of its own. Like much of his other work, it is a comic story with elements of tragedy. The title refers to all Mr. and Mrs. Ransome have left after they return home from a night at the opera. To the horror of this middle class couple, everything in their flat has gone missing including the telephone, the toilet paper (Mr. Ransome has to use his program from the opera), the light bulbs, and Mr. Ransome's prized Mozart collection. The comic situations developing from this crisis are improbable yet curiously still believable. Communication problems and individual idiosyncrasies propel the humour along in these hilarious sequences, with Bennett's observation making the farce seem all the more real. Social workers, the police and daytime television shows all find themselves on the receiving end of Bennett's gentle (albeit razor sharp) wit. The cold Mr. Ransome, painfully aware of his impression on others, begins to crack now his respectability is threatened. His wife on the other hand discovers her independence. Bennett has admitted he finds it easier to write through female personas, and he succeeds in showing Mrs. Ransome's gradual growth as a human being and disenchantment with her cosy, starched, pre-theft lifestyle.Read more ›
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By James D. Watts Jr. on September 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
"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.
Read more ›
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