To me, Alan Bennett is a ‘proper writer’. The sort you could expect to find on reading lists for literary appreciation, advanced critique courses, and MAs in Fine Arts. Or is it Liberal Arts, I never was quite sure which is which.
Fortunately, thanks to the brilliant “Talking Heads” which translated so well to television, I am not afraid of Alan Bennett. I picked up the book in the hope that I would find something accessible and humorous – that dry wit for which he is famous.
I don’t even know whether my American friends know who he is. Think of Stephen Fry but smaller, shyer, mousier (and older), but with equal modesty and clever ways with words. Both are classed as National Treasures in the British public eye.
So, picking up the copy of The Uncommon Reader passed to me at our bookclub meeting, I was hopeful, not just that this would be within my scope, since it was fairly light in weight, with an attractively plain cover, but that I would enjoy it. Even if I read it in Mr Bennett’s accent (or a rough appreciation thereof).
In fact, it reads in Her Majesty’s accent, on the whole, although with a tinge of Mr Bennett in the narrative. The story surrounds Her Majesty’s discovery of the mobile library round the back of Buckingham Place (blame the corgis for leading her there), and she ventures inside, to politely take a book to pretend to read when she discovers her mistake. The development of her reading habit threatens to upset the very constitution of the United Kingdom. Well, no, it doesn’t quite go that far, although most of the Establishment that surrounds her seems to think their futures are threatened by her eccentricity. Reading books, indeed! She must be senile!
This is a beautiful pastiche of what might go on behind the scenes. Maybe Mr Bennett knows (hasn’t he been knighted yet? I’d better check… although he’s the type to turn it down). Its laughter quotient must be in the 90s (a laugh-out-loud on most pages). The final paragraph is supreme.
A book to be read by all readers, and especially those who blog about what they read. I wonder if the Queen blogs? And if so, how would she keep it from her
jailers Privy Councillors. Maybe don’t call it Windsor Raciness, Ma’am. Ballymoral Bloggings might be too recognisable, too. Possibly Eton Mess might do it.
Oh, and I’m sure I can count it in my Local Heroes for the month, since she has a formal visit to Norwich and to the University of East Anglia (as well as undetailed sojourns at Sandringham)!
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. A particularly British amusement for everyone who likes to laugh at us. Or with us!