THE BRONTES WENT TO WOOLWORTHS <i> by Rachel Ferguson (Penguin: $7.95) </i>
The first half of Rachel Ferguson’s quirky novel, originally published in 1932, is as archly fey as a sonata for dog whistle. The Carnes, a family of self-conscious British eccentrics, enjoy an elaborate fantasy life built around their imaginary relations with a music-hall star, a famous Pierrot and a prominent judge, Sir Herbert Toddington. This brittle premise dissolves into a morass of treacle when Deirdre Carne, who works as a journalist, interviews Lady Toddington. Despite their eminent social position, the Toddingtons turn out to be kindly old dears who have nothing better to do than step into their fantasy roles to please the Carnes’ morose youngest daughter. The result is a Depression-era fantasy that Frank Capra would reject as cloyingly sentimental.