Alan Bennett’s novella, ‘The Uncommon Reader‘, is a delight. Maybe not so ‘A master piece of comic brevity’ as the Observer put it, but still a very charming and entertaining one that’s for sure. Unfortunately for French readers, it’s only available in English, as most of his other books. One could compare it to the essay ‘Comme un roman’ written by Daniel Pennac, since both authors write about the joys of reading. Alan Bennett taking the more fictional side of things (while Daniel Pennac sticking to the more scholastic side) since his voracious and uncommon reader turns out to be the Queen of England.
One day while chasing after her infamous corgis, HRH stumbles upon a mobile library and ‘now that one is here I suppose one ought to borrow a book‘. The Queen’s first choice of reading is a little bit dry but goes through with it ‘Once I start a book I finish it. That was the way one was brought up. Books, bread and butter and mashed potato – one finishes what’s on one’s plate‘. Her next choice of reading turns out to be a fortunate one and soon after she becomes engrossed with reading, to a point that her public duties begin to suffer. The Queen finds herself faking a cold so she can curl up with a book. ‘What she was finding also was how one book lead to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do‘.
Her staff sees this new reading hobby as a dangerous one. ‘While not exactly elitist, [reading] sends the wrong message. It tends to exclude‘.
Anyone who’s felt the pull of books, can identify to the Queen’s new reading habit and understand why one can get hooked on them and how they take you somewhere else. ‘Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds‘.
A quick, fun read that will surely raise a chuckle or two along the way.