Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Alan Bennett – “The Uncommon Reader”

Publ: 2007 ISBN: 24681097531
Rating: *****

I love Alan Bennett’s sense of humour and whilst this 124 page ‘novella’ may seem like a little pot-boiler it is anything but. It is a hilarious, well-written and very believable account of how Her Majesty began to read for enjoyment – a sharp contrast to her former existence where a sense of duty was always paramount. It all began with her entering the little Windsor mobile library to apologise for the noise her dog’s were making... Aided and abetted by her amanuensis, stick-like, ginger-haired (and gay) Norman from the kitchens, she sets about reading much to the consternation of her staff. You MUST read this book.
I could fill a whole notebook with wonderful quotations from this book but I’ll settle for the following:-

“Book, bread and butter, mashed potato – one finishes what’s on one’s plate, That’s always been my philosophy.”

“I think of literature,” she wrote, “as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but cannot possibly reach. And I have started too late.”

“There was such a chasm between the monarch and even her grandest subject that the social differences beyond that were somewhat telescoped. So the social distinctions of which Jane Austen made so much seemed of even less consequence to the Queen than they did to the ordinary reader...”

”It could have been a syllogism, if Gerald had known what a syllogism was: Alzheimer’s is common, the Queen is not common, therefore the Queen has not got Alzheimer’s.”

“Reading was not doing, that had always been the trouble. And old though she was she was still a doer.”

“Once it would have brought him to the block; these days it brought him a ticket to New Zealand and an appointment as high commissioner. It was the block but it took longer.”

“...it is true one is eighty and this is a sort of birthday party. But quite what there is to celebrate I’m not sure. I suppose one of the few things to be said for it is that one has at least achieved an age at which one can die without people being shocked.”

All this and I learned a new word – “solipsistic” for which a definition was hard to come by but Wikipedia says Solipsism (Latin: solus, alone + ipse, self) is a philosophical theory that all activity takes place within the mind, and therefore there is no reality outside one's own mind. ...

ALAN BENNETT is an English author and actor noted for his boyish appearance and his sonorous Yorkshire accent. He was born in Armley, Leeds, the son of a Co-op butcher. Bennett attended Leeds Modern School (a former state grammar school), learned Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists during his National Service, and gained a place at Cambridge University. However, having spent time in Cambridge during national service, and partly wishing to follow the object of his unrequited love, he decided to apply for a scholarship at Oxford University. He was accepted by Exeter College, Oxford University and went on to receive a first-class degree in history. While at Oxford he performed comedy with a number of future successful actors in the Oxford Revue. He was to remain at Oxford for several years researching and teaching Medieval History before deciding he was not cut out to be an academic. He probably first came to fame as the partner of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Johnathan Miller with Beyond the Fringe, a show which helped to revolutionise British satire.

His prolific output has stretched to nineteen individual television plays, four television series and three cinema films, together with numerous stage works, short stories, assorted journalism and his inimitable diaries. "His unassumingly owlish persona and fondness for self-deprecation has created the impression of a lovably eccentric minor talent. 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 articulate." Michael Brooke.
In 2001 he complained he was suffering from writer's block. This little book shows he is definitely over that!

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