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Book Review :: The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

While The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt book is a couple of years old now, Ann Patchett recently revived interest in it during one of her weekly videos for Parnassus Books. New Directions publishes these storybooks, as they call them, that look like Little Golden Books from childhood and are short enough for readers to finish them in one sitting. This format reinforces the seemingly simplistic story DeWitt has crafted.

The main character—whom some call Marguerite—has been raised to appreciate luxury and valuable belongings. The title refers to the idea that only certain craftspeople or artisans can use raw materials well to create beautiful clothing and belongings. However, readers find out that Marguerite’s story is more complicated than first appears, and that she’s writing a memoir about that complicated past, one her publisher wants her to write differently.

Marguerite seems to understand little about the broader world, only aware of the sheltered life of luxury her mother exposed her to. There is little more to the plot than that, but there is much more to the book than that. Saying more would spoil the final third of this brief novel, but readers should know by now they can’t judge a book by its cover.

The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt. One of the Storybooks 2023 Bundle available from New Directions.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

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