Discover more from A Book For Ants: Bite-Sized Reviews of Snack-Sized Books
THE ENGLISH UNDERSTAND WOOL by Helen DeWitt
It shames me to admit that I’ve never read Helen DeWitt before so I was glad to see her included in the wonderful New Directions storybook series. What starts as a fairly prosaic fictional memoir of a teenage girl’s childhood experience with her fabric dealer/designer mother soon takes on sinister overtones. A note arrives from her editor claiming that she is failing to deliver on their agreed narrative about the girl’s traumatic history. It is jarring and a little confusing, but also a relief to know the book won’t continue in the frankly unremarkable way it starts.
What unfurls thereafter is the story of the greatest life insurance theft and kidnapping case in history, though we only learn the details through the editor’s correspondence. The girl continues to play her cards close to her chest, leaving the editor (and reader) none the wiser to her grand plan. It’s all sly fun, and I couldn’t help but liken it to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Which, in case you’re wondering, for this 80s kid, is a very good thing. Now I’m off to get a copy of The Last Samurai.
The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt
New Directions, 2022