19 July 2010

The Uncommon Reader

One of the things I did during the holidays was read The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.

Queen Elizabeth reads plenty - papers from Parliament, newspapers, briefing notes and the like - but never novels.  No time for such things.  But that all changes when she inadvertently stumbles upon the City of Westminster travelling library van parked outside one of the palace's kitchen doors while taking the dogs for a walk.  She pops her head in to take a look and then duty bound, feels she can't leave with out borrowing something.  She is given a novel and again feeling duty bound, reads it.  So begins her journey into reading.

She makes a slow start but soon picks up speed and it isn't long before her work begins to suffer.  While others around her manage her now less than diligent work practices, she travels through various stages in her own inner world - the delight of reading, the guilt of spending too much time reading, regret that she didn't start reading sooner, regret at being exposed to a new way of life that she can't properly access in all reality because she is the Queen, wondering if she should turn her hand to writing herself...

This is a gentle read, not unlike another favourite - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Along the way the names of authors and novels are dropped left, right and centre as the Queen is exposed to more and more literature.  As we, the readers, remember these novels and authors, and whether or not we enjoyed them, it is as though we join in a literary conversation with the Queen as she makes her comment on each.   In this way it's very, very clever and engaging.  Best of all there is the most delicious twist at the end. 

A fun holiday read.


Mrs. Edwards said...

Mmm. Sounds like a good one! Thanks for the tip. I'll check right away to see if our library has it.

Meredith said...

Hi Amy. I hope you can find it. I'd love to hear what you thought of it, especially from the USA/removed from the Queen perspective.

As you would know, Australia is part of the British Commonwealth and as such, falls under the (at least ceremonial) rule of the Queen. So here, apart from those who don't care either way, there are those who are pro monarchy and those who would prefer to cut ties with Britain and become a republic.

So I did wonder, as I wrote this review, what those with strong views either way would do with this book. But I'd certainly be interested to hear what you think of it.