Cover of The English Understand Wool

The English Understand Wool

Helen DeWitt

arguerite, a reserved, sneakily precocious 17-year-old raised by an impossibly privileged and comically exacting mother, endures a traumatic family revelation and navigates the notoriety it brings in this lovely novella. The overriding principal Margeurite’s mother has imparted to her is the avoidance, at all costs, mauvais ton (“bad taste”). But how do you live up to this dictum when the sullied tide of this fallen world washes away everything you thought you had and knew?

How lucky do I feel to have noticed, moments before plopping my haul on the counter at Phinney Books, the that the handsome display of books next to the cash-wrap was from New Directions? Insanely. The lineup of authors they have chosen to start a new series (Storybook ND is preposterously stacked. The English Understand Wool grabbed me first of byline: Helen DeWitt is a writer whose work comes about as close to my idea perfection as anybody doing it right now. And this effort? Just one delectable morsel of a chapter after another until you’ve consumed an unassailable masterpiece in a single sitting.

This satirical character study reads like the wordly, eccentric tales which Wes Anderson movies can only gesture towards. It is an absolute joy for any fan of DeWitt and an ideal introduction to the unititiated: funny, short, and devilishly clever. Now, is it mauvais ton to wonder whether $18 is too much to pay for what is effectively a short story in a cloth binding? All I can say is that the Irish know linen, the English understand wool, and New Directions understands the written word.

Book Info

New Directions (2022)
ISBN/EAN Product Code
Publisher Description

A modern amorality play about a 17-year-old girl, the wilder shores of connoisseurship, and the power of false friends (Publisher’s Description)

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Books I Enjoyed in 2022