Mark's Reviews > Anna of the Five Towns

Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett
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Nov 16, 10

bookshelves: fiction, historical-fiction
Read from October 26 to November 12, 2010


I picked up this book in a used bookstore in Preston, England, knowing nothing about Bennett. And while I enjoyed the writing and particularly some of the family portraits he lays out, the crux of the book -- Anna's relationships with men -- doesn't quite work for me (don't worry, no spoiler alert needed).

Anna lives in one of the "Five Towns" near Liverpool renowned for their pottery making and coal mining, and Bennett does not spare the cityscapes from caustic descriptions. Her father is a miser and a tyrant, having outlived both his daughters' mothers and now making his money through real estate and investments. If dinner is not served precisely, an explosion and a night of shunning ensues.

Anna learns from him that she is coming into an inheritance that makes her a wealthy woman, yet she must still beg him for shopping money (until a fateful act of rebellion late in the story). Meanwhile, she is being pursued in an oh so decorous fashion by one of the most eligible bachelors and up and coming entrepreneurs in the city.

Anna's particular cross to bear, though, even more than the gossips of the Methodist church society, is that one of her inheritances is a disheveled piece of property owned by the Sunday School superintendent, a lugubrious and hypocritically moralistic man who is always behind on the rent, and whose shambling, awkward son is often sent down to deliver what payments he can.

This becomes the basis for what will pass for a crisis at the conclusion of this book, and I leave it to you to decide whether Bennett makes that work. For me, the careful development of his characters and descriptions never built up a solid foundation for the dramatic ending, so I couldn't end up giving this raves, even though I think the portrait of Anna's father is one of the most disgustingly compelling ones around.
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10/26/2010 page 28
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