The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Uncommon ReaderI’m starting to develop quite a fondness to Bennett’s writing. This is another humorous and exceptionally well-written narrative, and this coming from a reader who is not fond of reading humor.

This novella reads quickly, and the story of the Queen of England suddenly developing a taste for reading literature and sneaking around borrowing books and clearing her schedule so that she can read, is not only lighthearted, but it is endearing and charming.

The ‘villains’ are all the members of government who are not happy with this new development, the Queen wasting time in such an idle pursuit as the reading of literature. They continuously find ways to sabotage her reading but she always has her way in the end as she is, after all, the Queen of England!

When they arrived at the palace she had a word with the Grant, the young footman in charge, who said that 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 Anita Brookner.”

The young man, who seemed remarkably undeferential, said security may have thought it was a device.

The Queen said: “Yes. That is exactly what it is. A book is a device to ignite the imagination.”

The Queen is uncertain of her reading capability, she comes across as intimidated by the prose of literary giants, but like all literary students she learns quickly and passionately.

It was only after a year or so of reading and making notes that she tentatively ventured on the occasional thought of her own. ‘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. I will never catch up.’

I don’t know about you, but that last statement by her majesty certainly strikes a chord with me. When I look at the beautiful literature out there I still want to explore, read and digest…

One last excerpt that made me smile, this occurs after a party where the Queen happens to meet an author she much admires, but he brushes aside any compliments and discusses, instead, the misery from his latest work.

Authors, she soon decided, were probably best met with in the pages of their novels, and were as much creature’s of the reader’s imagination as the characters in their books. Nor did they seem to think one had done them a kindness by reading their writings. Rather they had done one kindness by writing them.

This really is a lovely peace of literature. Bennett has a seemingly simple protagonist yet upon deeper inspection, as the story progresses, the complexity and depth of the character emerges. Another treat is that Bennett is an economic writer, so if verbose passages are your delight then stir clear.

Samir Rawas Sarayji

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5 thoughts on “The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

  1. I met an author recently whose work I admire, but I definitely didn’t like their public persona. Guess I’ll stick with her books.

    Also, I am simpatico with the feeling of never catching up. The treadmill keeps going faster, and my reading cannot keep pace. It is a bitter pill to accept. Perhaps I will have another life where all I will do is read.

      1. Sometimes I think that writers spend so much time with themselves that their social skills begin to suffer. But the writer I was referring to also teaches at a university, someone who has a lot of interaction with people. Maybe she was just having a bad day.

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