The Sunday Review: THE UNCOMMON READER – Alan Bennett

From one of England’s most celebrated writers, the author of the award-winning The History Boys, a funny and superbly observed novella about the Queen of England and the subversive power of reading

When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.Goodreads


This deceptively tiny book (121 pages) was packed with awesome. I went into this not really knowing what to expect, but hoping to be mildly amused. I’d come across it via an article that came through my feed on Twitter, and I thought it sounded like it might be entertaining, you know, being British and about The Queen becoming a reading addict and all. I then ordered and promptly forgot about it. 

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve
ever seen a picture of The Queen 
enjoying a good book.

Cut to a couple of weeks later when it arrives, and I set it aside thinking, “Oh yeah. That book.” And it probably would have sat in my TBR pile, patiently waiting, for quite some time had it not been for the descent of a particularly horrid bout of ennui culminating in a full blown reading slump. To be honest, it was its diminutive size that eventually prompted me to pick it up again. I figured, hey, it’s little, so it’s not a huge commitment. It might even be funny.
So last Sunday  morning I idly began flipping its pages. Next thing you know, it’s dinner time and I’ve finished the whole thing. And you know what? I loved it. This is the first time I’ve actually been glad for a reading slump, because it led me to this little gem.

There were a few things I loved about this book. First of all, the tone of the writing. Bennett managed to write in a formal-feeling tone befitting a story about royalty – but not so formal as to become dry. It was perfectly balanced and felt real. 

I also loved the humour in the book. It’s not overt, it’s pretty dry and understated. Perhaps it’s that whole raised-by-Brits thing, but this is exactly the type of humour that completely cracks me up. I don’t enjoy slapstick (think Anchorman) anywhere near as much. The subtlety of Bennett’s humour really nailed it for me.

It’s pretty much the kind of humour these two amazing
ladies specialize in.

And finally, I loved the moral behind the story. Being about a woman of more mature years, who is only just discovering reading, it’s inspiring to extrapolate from that a sense that it’s never too late to find something new to love. Indeed, for some people, it won’t be until later in life that they have or allow themselves the latitude to explore more passive or time-consuming endeavours. 

 Go on, get down with ya bad self.

Though I’m not that old (yet), I did lose my way, reading-wise, for a few years. So I found this story particularly encouraging, and I connected to it. There’s no point in wishing you’d done something sooner in life – take the time you have and make the most of it. For me, the perfect example is my discovery of the YA genre. I’ve read the odd YA book over the past decade (*ahem* Twilight *ahem*) but not until The Fault In Our Stars did I really begin to explore it. Since reading that book last May I’ve spent the better part of my last reading year finding more YA books to love. And while, sure, I wish they’d been around when I was a teenager, I’m not about to dwell on that – I’m just happy to be discovering excellent YA authors like John Green, Ann Aguirre and Rainbow Rowell now. 

At its heart, this book is about following one’s passions – regardless of age, position or the judgement of others. It’s about exploring and allowing an interest to sweep you away once in awhile. It’s about indulgence – but the good kind. And it’s also about the willingness to make sacrifices to follow a dream. 

Recommended if you like: Sue Townsend, Christopher Brookmyre, Quentin Crisp, Stephen Fry, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and the British Royal Family (including the corgis).


Book Title: The Uncommon Reader
Author: Alan Bennett
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: Profile Books
Released: 2008 (this edition)
Genre: Fiction, Humour, Reading
Pages: 121
Date Read: March 23, 2014
Rating: 9.5/10

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