The opening lines of The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett tell us all we need to know.
They give us an insight into the personality of the two principal characters Mr. and Mrs. Ransome.
They give us the setting - their house.
They give us the nature and extent of the conflict taking place - their house has been burgled and whoever burgled it took away everything, leaving no clue as to their identity.
And ultimately these lines whet our appetite for discovering what, if any, resolution there can be to such a surreal state of affairs.
In this novel, Alan Bennett shows us how our lives are dependent on property to give it meaning.
And by sympathizing with a couple who are suddenly stripped of all their possessions, Bennett reminds us that we too live in a fool’s paradise. One where we take comfort, not from who we are, or from what we do, but from that which we own.
And this would be a bitter pill to swallow if it weren’t for Bennett’s humour, which permeates all and reminds us that the ability to laugh at ourselves is probably our most valuable possession.
"The Ransomes had been burgled. "Robbed," Mrs. Ransome said. "Burgled," Mr. Ransome corrected. Premises were burgled; persons were robbed. Mr. Ransome was a solicitor by profession and thought words mattered. Though "burgled" was the wrong word too. Burglars select; they pick; they remove one item and ignore others. There is a limit to what burglars can take: they seldom take easy chairs, for example, and even more seldom settees. These burglars did. They took everything."
Opening lines of The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett