Struck down with a cold one evening, unable to focus on the complexity of Shakespeare, I reached for something lighter and came upon Alan Bennett’s The uncommon reader. Ideal for a stuffed and hazy brain this is a charming little book about the Queen of England. I always assumed this to be a book for slightly older ladies. However, while in no way diminishing its appeal to the abovementioned audience, I have to admit I also enjoyed it.
By chance the Queen stumbles into a travelling library, parked on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Until then she hasn’t been a passionate reader at all, but at this later stage in life she quickly discovers the appeal of literature. Assisted by her newly-appointed equerry Norman she forms an obsession with reading, starting out with lighter material, but eventually even accepting the tediousness of someone like Henry James (and that says something). Her staff and family do not approve of the Queen’s new hobby and with some tricks try to get her off literature, to no success though.
The uncommon reader is a story about how reading can always enter your life, no matter how old you are. I’m sure reading has got a pretty good hold of my life already, but it never hurts to come across such a wide list of authors as Bennett lets his Queen discover; from Samuel Pepys to Alice Munro and from George Eliot to Philip Larkin. Slightly refreshed by this side-track I shall now return to my Shakespeare.
17 February 2013
Faber and Faber, 2007
Originally published 2006