The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Opening sentence: “At Windsor it was the evening of the state banquet and as the president of France took his place beside Her Majesty, the royal family formed up behind and the procession slowly moved off and through into the Waterloo Chamber.”
You know when you finish a book and just feel better for having read it? Yep, if you find yourself with an afternoon to spare, sit down with this little gem. You won’t regret it.
In this charming tale, Alan Bennett imagines that the Queen, in the years approaching her 80th birthday, discovers a passion for reading. Stumbling across a mobile library by the Palace kitchen, she borrows a book out of politeness then finds she wants to read more and more,
“She enjoyed reading like nothing else and devoured books at an astonishing rate.”
The Queen quickly finds that the only problem with wanting to read all the time is that it takes up every spare minute you have and others can view this habit as unsociable, or worse, selfish. Something I can relate to..! Those around her conspire to stop her new passion, as it is seen as elitist and distracting, although they may just have been scared that the Queen had found a way to change her way of thinking, as ultimately, this is a book about the power of reading.
Alan Bennett has skilfully selected a character that everyone knows (in a public sense) and used her to shows how opinions, outlooks, the way we interact with people, our ability to express our feelings and ultimately life decisions are affected due to the wealth of knowledge and exposure to different lives that reading gives,
“That is exactly what it is. A book is a device to ignite the imagination.”
It helps that the Queen has such broad literary tastes, including Philip Larkin’s poetry, Alice Munro, Mary Renault, Proust and historical non-fiction. Sharing in the Queen’s delight at discovering authors and realising there is just so much out there to read was a big part of the joy in reading this book for me.
I also loved that it was peppered throughout with wonderful phrases that will resonate with all bibliophiles, along with the above,”Can there be any greater pleasure than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen?”
It is, of course, so eloquently written, wise and funny that once it is finished, you will wish it was at least triple the length.