Saturday, 16 January 2010

An Uncommon Queen

I HAVE been sitting re-reading Alan Bennett’s ‘The Uncommon Reader’ and enjoyed it just as much as I did first time around.

A delight from beginning to end, literate, understated, quintessentially English, this book is beautifully written and constructed. Bennett always manages to use the perfect word in exactly the right place, and this is full of his usual wry, detached observations of the minutia of everyday life and human behaviour.

At the centre of the novel, or perhaps I should say novella, is the Queen, older, wiser and more human – albeit more selfish – than she appears in Bennett’s ‘A Question of Attribution’.

But you warm to her as she discovers the joys of reading and takes up an ‘interest’ for the first time in her life becoming, as she does so, more aware of the feelings of her subjects, and of those around her, who are not necessarily so keen on her hobby.

HM discovers what many of us already know, that reading leads to more reading as you chase allusions, check out facts, hunt for answers and search for truths. You rejoice with her as she discovers your own favourites and, spurred on by her enthusiasm, you vow to extend your own reading and try something new.

As a result, Proust now tops my list of 'musts' since Bennett's Queen is the only person to make me feel I could cope with a writer I have always regarded as 'difficult'.

And if the real Queen does not resemble the character portrayed by Bennett, then she should try a little harder to match the image – his creation is up there with the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas. I really do want her to exist.

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