Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett ( 2006, 121 pages)

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (1934, UK) has been on  my TBR list ever since I first heard of it last year.     When I started my blog I intended to focus on books that  deal with the lives of reading centered people.   I had a list of 50 or so books I wanted to read and post on that dealt directly with that topic.   The Uncommon Reader was on this list and I am very glad I have now read this insightful, witty and above all else fun novel about the reading life of Queen Elizabeth II of England.    

As the novel opens Queen Elizabeth has discovered that a mobile library comes periodically to a spot behind the palace.    The Queen has never been much of a reader.   Her "handlers" have always provided her all the information she needs to perform her Royal duties.    She goes into the mobile van and as she feels it would be good to encourage reading among the public and to be polite to the page that takes her to the mobile library she checks out a book.    We see the Queen get more and more interested in reading and reading more serious books.     Anybody into the reading life will be able to relate when the Queen begins to find her duties a burden as they cut into her reading time.    Things that were once of great importance to the Queen such perfection in her appearance no longer matter so much to her.    She begins to ask those she meets what they read.    As a long standing weekly ritual (Elizabeth has been Queen for over 50 years) she has a weekly meeting with whoever is currently Prime Minister.  In the past these conversations have been more or less formalities designed to be sure the Queen saw events as the government of the time wanted her too.   Then the Queen began to ask the Prime Minister and other handlers what they were reading.   The government officials become alarmed when they see  that her reading is giving the Queen a mind of her own and try to find ways to stop her reading.   The Queen begins to think about how reading affects peoples'  lives.   We see her reading powers develop from being unable to read a novel by Ivy Compton-Burnett to reading and talking about Proust.   (I will be posting on her Manservant and Maidservant for  NYRB Reading Week from November 7 to 13.     I urge my readers to consider joining in this project hosted by The Literary Stew and Coffeespoons.   There will be international giveaways. )

The tone of The Uncommon Reader is like a young adult work.  The title is meant to make us think of Virginia Woolf and Samuel Johnson.    The page who helps Elizabeth with her reading is gay and we see how this effects his life.    There is also a really purely gratuitous use of x rated language that seems out of place in this near fairy tale like work.    Without this line I would say the book could be read by middle school children.   

I liked this book.    The short length of the book fits its fairy tale like feeling.    The book has a lot of really nice observations on books and the reading life.    The development of the Queen into a reader in her later years is very well done and quite believable.   

The Literary Stew has an excellent review of this book.     I endorse this book fully with the caveat to parents about the x-rated language.

Mystica also has an excellent post on The Uncommon Reader

Mel u


Mystica said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. If you could link it to your review I'd appreciate it. I also started following you on GFC!

I like your review so much.

Suko said...

What an interesting sounding work of fiction! And a good choice for The Reading Life. It may also be a good choice for me.

ds said...

This was a fun book! Cute, and sometimes too clever (it's Alan Bennett, after all), but it makes its point very well.
Great review; I'm glad you liked it!

LuAnn said...

I'm glad you had the chance to read this book. A friend gave it to me for Christmas last year and I loved it!

Anonymous said...

This book was a lot of fun, and I loved it!