the lexicon

a writing portfolio by Alexandra Savvides

Alan Bennett – The Uncommon Reader

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Alan BennettAlan Bennett’s latest novella proves that often, the very best things do come in small packages.

The neatly bound, 120-odd page extended short story is the latest addition to Bennett’s already extensive catalogue of plays and monologues. The tale, seemingly implausible on first inspection, is made wholly believable by Bennett’s masterful and subversive writing style.

When the Queen of England stumbles upon a travelling library outside her palace, an entire world of literature is uncovered. Starting off with a volume borrowed here and there, the library soon turns into a regular outing on the Queen’s roster. Of course, her newfound interest earns the chagrin of her palace entourage – all except the keen kitchen-hand Norman who is well acquainted with the literary greats. He takes great pleasure in slowly introducing the Queen to works she had previously overlooked, and together they create their own little literary hideaway within the confines of the palace.

As her reading increases, her palatial and royal duties are pushed to the side. Books become almost an addiction. The Queen simply cannot go anywhere without having a book by her side. “One” must read – and read she does. Witty one-liners slowly begin to creep into the Queen’s vocabulary, and the great pride she once took in her wardrobe begins to wane. Heaven forbid the Queen wears the same brooch twice in one week, chides the narrator.

The Uncommon Reader is so enjoyable to read because Bennett takes us into the mind (even if it is fictional) of one of the most powerful women in the world. This sort of voyeurism, as it were, makes this story so compelling. Not only do we see a sense of humour behind this public figure, but a bitter-sweet sense of pathos as well. Of course, this is a very sympathetic portrayal of this fictional Queen, and some readers may well see this as Bennett’s gentle support for the monarchy. If you are able to put this fact aside, and see it as a charming piece of fiction, the rewards are plentiful – just as the Queen discovers for herself through her reading.

The Uncommon Reader is a delight to read. Brief enough to spend the afternoon with, but engrossing enough to keep you interested along the way, Bennett has once again shown why he is such an interesting writer to keep one’s eye on.

Published on The Program, 18 November 2007

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Written by lexstatic

March 17, 2008 at 6:07 am

Posted in Reviews

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