his work is generally darker, harsher and more satirically barbed than
his 'national treasure' status and peerless ear for the eccentricities
of Yorkshire dialect and workplace gossip would suggest...his ability to
get under the skin of such withdrawn people and write about them with
such empathy, compassion and wry (often gallows) humour makes him not
just a great writer but the definitive chronicler of a certain kind of
English ordinariness, whose outwardly placid surface conceals inner
turmoil as intense as anything displayed by the more emotionally
Michael Booth on Alan Bennett
I'm on bended knee with gratitude to Profile Books for an early copy of The Uncommon Reader and being a national treasure I suspect Alan Bennett is unlikely to end up in the Tower, but as I haven't yet gained such status I should probably be really careful how or what I write about his latest book.
First published in The London Review of Books in 2006 and now in a seemingly joint venture from Profile and Faber this nifty little hardback version, The Uncommon Reader is Alan Bennett at his empathetic, wry and chronicling best and the finest way to read this is to imagine him reading it to you.That unassumingly dry and laconic Yorkshire accent with its slow measured phrasing and inflections, pregnant pauses and emphases and you have just about the funniest quasi serious little book you will read this year.
HM The Queen, after a lifetime of unstinting service and duty discovers the library van parked up round the back of Windsor Castle, borrows an Ivy Compton-Burnett and becomes a voracious reader.
"The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference:there was something lofty about literature. Books did not care who was reading them...all readers were equal, herself included"
Books are smuggled onto Royal carriage drives down the Mall, on overseas tours and beyond. The Duke and the palace staff can't fathom it all as HM ploughs her way assiduously through the canon.
There are some priceless and precious comedy moments and to share them would have you rolling in the aisles but spoil the treats in store, you really do need to read them for yourselves.
But I can't resist just one, the day the book secreted under the cushions for the carriage drive back from the State Opening of Parliament is discovered
"while ma'am had been in the Lords the sniffer dogs had been round and security had confiscated the book.He thought it had probably been exploded.
'Exploded? ' said the Queen. 'But it was an Anita Brookner.'"
Reading opens doors for HM and a lifetime of service is suddenly put into perspective, as only Bennett's compassionate eye can do, and with the most delicious twist on the final page I'm not saying another word more beyond the fact that it's a safe bet this one will gratifyingly find its way into just about every Christmas stocking in the land this year.
It will have been read by the time the turkey comes out of the oven and the nation will listen to HM's speech at 3pm with renewed interest and enthusiasm...just in case.
Just in case what you may well ask, you'll have to read it and find out.