05.09 The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet
May 2009 Meeting

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  1. hilaryfbbc

     /  June 17, 2009

    Am I bovvered? A bit…..
    Not being a Royals-watcher probably helps with this lovely little story – it all seemed entirely plausible to me – but I will admit to loving everything about Alan Bennet’s voice and this is also why I enjoyed the book, imagining him reading it.
    However I too feel uneasy about this impression the reader is left with, that reading about life is secondary to writing about it. (For goodness sake, authors don’t half need us readers)
    Apart from that I thought it was a little joy!

  2. madeleinebbc

     /  June 16, 2009

    I loved this! If I had my own copy I would lend it to everyone I know. (In fact I did lend it to my neighbour for a long train journey and she was less amused than I was. ‘ I can see it would appeal to book groups!’ was her comment).

    I didn’t feel it necessary to suspend belief, it was just a story with characters, but with the pervading question, ‘I wonder ifshe really….’
    I especially liked the ending, and certainly didn’t see it coming.

    I agree that with Moira that it hardly made a book, but as we didn’t pay for it we can hardly gripe about not getting our money’s worth…

  3. richardbbc

     /  May 29, 2009

    Once I had suspended belief I enjoyed most of this book. I sympathised with the Queen who starts out by believing reading is not a proper activity for someone who has always been a doer but quickly changes her mind as her newfound passion takes a hold of her. I readily identified with the situations she found herself in when others were antagonistic to her reading and enjoyed the way she used her knowledge of books to disconcert those she disapproved of (surely we don’t still dislike the French, do we?) But I found the last section of the book a bit disappointing. The fact that the Queen matures into a writer is fine by me and obviously fine by Alan Bennett but my interest in the pair of them evaporated when we were told that to be a reader is next door to being a spectator and that books can only take you so far. I wasn’t aware that there is a natural and inevitable progression from reading to writing and wanted a lot more convincing that that is actually the case.

  4. moirabbc

     /  May 27, 2009

    Last sentence should read ….’slightly LESS absurd…’ Sloppy editing!

  5. moirabbc

     /  May 27, 2009

    I feel The Uncommon Reader does not merit publication as a stand-alone novella. As 1 of a short story collection, it would have been an amusing tale but it gave me the impression it had been dashed off in a few days. The word ‘peregrination ‘ was used at least 4 times which, considering the book consists of little more than 100 pages, seemed a gross verbal extravagance or perhaps sloppy editing.
    As a national treasure, Alan Bennett has lost some of his worth in my assessment. The notion of the Queen reading Proust is only slightly more absurd than her husband doing diversity training.

  6. Sarah

     /  May 20, 2009

    Apparently, it’s about the Queen. Well, yes, I had picked up on this before it was pointed out at the meeting, but my interest in the Queen is fleeting at best.

    Ignoring the Queen (which is probably treasonous), I pretty much read this light weight novel as an essay on the art of reading. This did lead me to wonder why the Queen is chosen as the central character. At the conclusion, as the queen chooses writing over reading, it seems likely that her experiences in some way mirror those of Bennet himself; giving credence to Jo’s theory that the Queen is a metaphor… I rather liked that interpretation, it may be the ‘comic brevity’ (or is that brief comedy?) to which the front cover alludes.

    My (less entertaining) theory is that the book sets out to illustrate how reading integrates a person into humanity, and the Queen, as a remote and isolated persona, is therefore the most extreme candidate on which to perform the experiment. Conversely, as the Queen becomes better able to understand humanity at large, she becomes more isolated from those close at hand, due to the solitary (and perceived elitist) nature of reading. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the person of the Queen; I do like the irony of a Queen losing favour on grounds of elitism.

    I am being a little unfair… I had been keen to read this book for some time, but having read such glowing reviews it was never going to live up to my expectations. But there were comic moments, a booklist for further reference, (though I believe I may venture to promise faithfully to never, ever read Proust) and some observations on the nature of reading which must resonate with anyone who has ever read a book. And I admit that the comparisons made between the characteristics of reading and writing has left me something to think about…

    “As good as anything he has ever done” the back cover proclaims with, I think, some ambivalence. Given that my previous experience of Bennet was limited to the merciless, if conceivably affectionate, barracking he received at the hands of Radio 4’s “Dead Ringers,” I may have read this comment in entirely the wrong spirit.


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