Uncommonly good

A review of The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Novellas aren't usually my thing. Not because I think they can't be good - but because they may be exactly that. I like to dive in and submerse myself in a book and when a novella is good, the primary feeling I have as I finish is of wanting more. Occasionally I do find the story that is perfectly suited to the novella form. I find an author who has such nice control of his plot and characters that the shorter length works wonderfully. Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett does all of that.

The story itself is simple. Queen Elizabeth II is out walking her corgis one day and comes upon the travelling library van (think bookmobile). Since her dogs have caused her to get close enough to converse with the driver of the van and the young man choosing a book, the Queen feels obligated to check something out. And thus a journey begins.  

The Queen, a woman whose life has been nothing but duty, discovers the joys and wonders of reading for pleasure and self-education. When asked what she'd like to read, she's stumped:

"She'd never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, as one did, but liking books was something she left to other people. It was a hobby and it was in the nature of her job that she didn't have hobbies...No. Hobbies involved preferences and preferences had to be avoided; preferences excluded people. One had no preferences. Her job was to take an interest, not be interested herself. And besides, reading wasn't doing. She was a doer." (pg. 6) 

At least she was a doer. Initially guided by the kitchen worker she met at the moving library, Norman, the Queen finds herself immersed in new worlds. And much to the dismay of her staff, she's not as dedicated to fulfilling her duties as she has always been. No one understands her new interest (who'd want to read a book after all), and many fear she's getting senile. As the machinations happen around her, the Queen progresses to the point of not just reading, but writing!

At times dryly funny, at others wildly satirical, but always charming, this is a novella that will appeal to any reader.

Comments

Loved this book. Thanks for reviewing, Jane!

I loved this book, too, Jane.  I remember reading it as a recommendation from LibraryThing for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society!