Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

What a delight to read a novella and to savour The Uncommon Reader in one sitting and in the time it takes to imbibe two glasses of sherry (as is the custom of Queen Elizabeth II who follows religiously this medical advice from her regal namesake).

Speaking of Her Majesty, she is for once a subject, or the subject of this novella by the prolific and versatile writer, Alan Bennett, perhaps best known for his award-winning The History Boys.

It was the novelist, Upton Sinclair who declared, “On what slender threads of accident depend the most important circumstances.” In this novella, the slender thread of accident happens when one of the Queen’s corgis wanders from Buckingham Palace into a mobile library. The pursuit by Her Majesty leads to a browse, a borrowing of a book and by chapters, a journey into serious reading.

This book opens up the themes of discovering the joy of reading, even late in life and in the midst of a full life. With the Queen previously being a doer than a reader and with a family and an entourage that is negative about her worming into books, Bennett has ample opportunity in this slim volume to express the views of many toward reading and to counter these objections one by one with royal authority.

This novella reveals the dramatic ways that serious and wide reading shapes the Queen of England, leaving readers to marvel and historians to wonder, at the significant influence on the history of the world of one stray corgi.

From the punny title to the last line Bennett writes with wit, suspense and surprise. The Uncommon Reader should be on Her Majesty’s reading list when she next accompanies her Pembroke corgi to the mobile library. She will be amused.

[The length of this reviewella is in keeping with a novella.]

Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 60.00.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of The Uncommon Reader.