The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett


No secret that I love the Royal Family. And I love stories about books. Stands to reason then, that Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader was a smashing success for me.

The story is simple – late in Her Majesty’s life, she discovers a love for reading. This new hobby is somewhat annoying for her staff because she’d rather be reading than cutting ribbons/ giving speeches/ opening buildings.

…she had begun to perform her duties with a perceived reluctance: she laid foundation stones with less élan and what few ships there were to launch she sent down the slipway with no more ceremony than a toy boat on a pond, her book always waiting. Continue reading

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Sisters by Lily Tuck

Lily Tuck’s latest novella, Sisters, opens with a quote from Christopher Nicholson’s Winter“First and second wives are like sisters.” The quote sets the scene for the unnamed narrator’s story, who describes life with her new husband, his two teenagers, and the unbanishable presence of his first wife, ominously known only as ‘she’.

A partnership that stems from a betrayal is on uneven ground from the outset – history is on the side of the ex; there will always be nagging doubts about trust; and comparisons will be made. Continue reading

Quick! I need to read a whole book.

Sometimes a very, very short book is just the ticket – reading slump, testing a new genre, choosing something for your book group (because you know they don’t have the stamina for anything over 200 pages), a long train ride…

Here’s a list of my favourite very short books. Continue reading

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras’s The Lover is the second book I’ve read in as many weeks that’s a memoir, thinly disguised as a novel (the other being by Lily Brett).

The story is set in Saigon in the 1930s, and describes the tumultuous affair between a relatively poor adolescent French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. Interspersed between details of their clandestine meetings are descriptions of the unnamed narrator’s mother – headmistress of a girls’ high school and prone to bouts of depression, and her wayward brothers. Continue reading

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Truly, there were probably a dozen things about Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday that could have annoyed me –

  • the cloying “Once upon a time…” opening
  • the Cinderella riff
  • the subtitle, ‘A Romance’, for it’s seemingly a story about a maid being taken advantage of…(or is it?)
  • the lengthy descriptions of stains on sheets
  • the improbability of a maid walking around a stately home, naked, and laying books across her bare breasts
  • the 400-page-price-tag on what is actually a novella*

But all is forgiven Mr Swift because, when you revealed your twist – a small but perfect tragedy – I gasped.

Continue reading