blood runs cold
Helen DeWitt’s new fiction The English Understand Wool (9 x 6.5 x 0.5 inches & a nice 69 pages)
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The English Understand Wool
This new fiction, by Helen DeWitt, arrives today (!) from New Directions in their series with a suspiciously Purse Book purpose in the world: “Storybook ND—our new series of slim hardcover fiction books—aims to deliver the pleasure one felt as a child reading a marvelous book from cover to cover in an afternoon.” When I finished The English Understand Wool in one greedy hour, I felt the immediate return of a distinctly childlike sensation:
again! again! again!
The English Understand Wool is so delicately surprising, that I feel protective (!) about revealing too much about it. I will say the book has: cunning and pearls, gorgeous wines, hotel suites with the TVs removed, cold hearts, sophisticates, deceit, multilingual show-offs, good dessert. I will also say that there is one animating fear preoccupying the narrator. She defies anything mauvais ton, or as the French would say bad taste.
It’s also an attractive book to carry around: the rare, but not unheard-of, hardcover purse book. Handsome proportions, delicious frosted Wayne Thiebaud cakes on the cover, and a story, on the inside, that feels like a glorious stomach ache from too much sugar.
The book is all surface, impatience, snobbery, and obsession with the aesthetic.
And then, it’s not that at all. It’s what’s hidden, it’s blood pumping cold deep below the surface. It’s the strong backbone holding up the whole operation under the perfectly selected suit. Though the narrator decides, the English word “suit” is too stupid to give justice to the thing it describes. It’s ill-suited, and the book and narrator will always refuse something ill-suited, even if it seems like the only option they have. A spirit devoted to refusing mauvais ton reveals itself as a spirit capable of refusing anything.