Review: The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett

the uncommon readerFrom the author of The History Boys and The Clothes They Stood Up In, a deliciously funny novella that celebrates the pleasure of reading.

When the Queen in pursuit of her wandering corgis stumbles upon a mobile library  she feels duty bound to borrow a book. Aided by Norman, a young man from the palace kitchen who frequents the library, Bennett describes the Queen’s transformation as she discovers the liberating pleasures of the written word.

With the poignant and mischievous wit of The History Boys, England’s best loved author revels in the power of literature to change even the most uncommon reader’s life.

Rating: 4/5

This was a short, charming book read that I was rather hoping to enjoy but suspected I wouldn’t. The former, because Alan Bennett is the author of The History Boys, which is one of my favourite plays (and movies) of all-time. The wit and humour of that particular creation is just spot on – darkly funny and bitingly smart. On the other hand, I’m not really a fan of fiction stories told from the perspective of a known and current figure – in this case, the Queen herself.

But the author pulled it off delightfully. The message of the book surpasses that of its rather eminent narrator – rather, it’s a book about books for the people who love books. And that’s all of us, yes?

Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. 

The satire is spot-on, and the book skewers the hypocritical politicking of those in power. It’s also fun to follow our MC as her reading tastes develop, and the kinship that develops between lowly assistant Norman and the most recognisable, powerful woman in the land is rather sweet to witness.

“Which ethnic classics did you have in mind, Sir Kevin? The Kama Sutra?”

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