Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The suggested theme for 52 Books in 52 Weeks for this week is Dickens. I am almost there as Arnold Bennett is an author who has been compared to Dickens. I remember reading and enjoying Clayhanger maybe 30 years ago but haven't read anything by Arnold Bennett since until I picked up this free eBook. I had forgotten just how good a writer Bennett was. Like Dickens he was a journalist who also wrote fiction. Like Dickens his work has a very strong and acutely observed sense of place - Victorian London for Dickens, the early 20th century Potteries for Bennett (the Potteries is an area in Staffordshire which was traditionally the centre of - duh! -English pottery making). Bennett's fictional Five Towns based on "Bursley" are in reality Six Towns centred on Burslem. Like Dickens, Bennett is a master of language. What in a lesser author could be dense and turgid text in Bennett's hands becomes finely crafted description. In some ways very little happens in Anna of the Five Towns, a coming of age story in which the heroine Anna begins to break away from her miserly father and experiences the first stirrings of romance, but I found I couldn't put it down. My one disappointment was in the ending. It seemed to stop very suddenly without any of the subtlety that is characteristic of the rest of the book. Maybe it was because this is one of Bennett's early works.
As a flavour of his style, here is the first sentence:
The yard was all silent and empty under the burning afternoon heat, which had made its asphalt springy like turf, when suddenly the children threw themselves out of the great doors at either end of the Sunday-School - boys from the right, girls from the left - in two howling, impetuous streams, that widened, eddied, intermingled and formed backwaters until the whole quadrangle was full of clamour and movement."I have a sense that Arnold Bennett's works have fallen out of fashion among the classics. It's a shame as they deserve to be more widely read.