The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett: Review.
This is a wonderful fictional account of what happened when Queen Elizabeth II decided to take up reading.The queen reads – of course she does – but in this novella,her reading activities are confined to state papers,official documents and the more serious daily newspapers.
She’s a busy lady.
In Alan Bennett’s book though, she starts to read fiction.It’s all the fault of her corgis.
One day, when the queen is exercising her dogs in the palace grounds and she is chasing them, she finds herself in a courtyard which contains a strange vehicle. The corgis find it fascinating.
It is a mobile library which regularly visits the palace so that the staff can borrow books.The queen has to be polite.(One does,doesn’t one?) In the mobile library she finds Norman, a lowly member of the palace staff. One has to be polite.
And she feels that it is incumbent upon her to borrow a book.
She becomes to rely on Norman to recommend his favourites to her. Norman, like many of the palace staff, happens to be gay so he has to temper his opinions a little but the queen is hooked.
Reading is her new hobby.
The queen reads everywhere. She discusses the books she has read with visiting heads of state and ministers – much to their bewilderment. Even when she is in the royal coach, she has a good book stashed behind a cushion.
This is harmless, surely? Lots of people read. She is the monarch – surely she can read too?
But her advisors object. This new hobby is taking up her time and distracting her. The wheels of palace intrigue are set into motion. The first thing they have to do is get rid of Norman – he only encourages her especially once she promotes him. Jealousy plays a part.
I recommend this book so highly. Being a novella,it’s a quick read -perfect for a short air or rail journey. But I warn you, you’ll want to read it more than once. It’s one of my ‘annual’ books that I enjoy every time I pick it up.
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Incidentally, the fact that the character of Norman is gay reminds me of a lovely story about Noel Coward when he was attending gala at Buckingham Palace and being escorted by the Queen Mother. She noticed that Noel, a noted homosexual, was looking in an interested fashion at the various staff who were lined upon parade.
With a twinkle in her eye, the Queen mother remarked:
“I wouldn’t if I were you, Noel; they count them before they put them out.”