Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

I don't think there's many people who haven't read this, or read numerous reviews so I'll keep this brief. I'm also not sure what I really thought about this little book. The Queen stumbles on a mobile library that she didn't know existed and borrows a book, more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. This leads to an obsession with reading that affects her royal duties, relationships and her whole life.

The book is full of humorous moments, I chuckled a fair few times in the short time it took me to read this book. The concept of a quiz team with The Queen an her self-selected reading advisor is just one of these moments.

"'The pub quiz. One has been everywhere, seen everything and though one might have difficulty with the pop music and some sport, when it comes to the capital of Zimbabwe, say, or the principal exports of New South Wales, I have all that at my fingertips'

'And I could do the pop' said Nigel

'Yes' said the queen 'we would make a good team'"

The book is really an exploration of how reading can change lives. The queen feels it has changed hers and becomes increasingly dissatisfied with her own commitments as they distract from her reading time. It also works well as a gentle satire of all the bureaucracy, planning and prompting that goes into the supposedly smooth running life of the British Monarch.

However, there are times this book just seemed to moral, and almost dictatorial to me. Yes, the queen should be allowed to read, and the attempts of her advisers to curtail this are wrong, The queen also seems to assume that because she enjoys reading, everyone else should too. When she starts asking her subjects on her walkabouts what they are reading, rather than generic, 'have you travelled far' type questions, she is making assumption about peoples leisure time, simply because this is how she fills her spare time.

"'I feel Ma'am, that while not exactly elitist, it sens the wrong message. It tends to exclude.'

'Exclude!' 'Surely most people can read'

'They can Ma'am, but I'm not sure that they do'

'Then, Sir Kevin, I am setting a good example'

Maybe this is supposed to be satire, or comedy but it just didn't come across that way to me. Having said that though, apart from this issue, I enjoyed this book, it made me laugh and the surprise ending was a shock, and definitely food for thought.


Cath said...

I really liked this one too, apart from odd bits as you said. I liked The Queen's reaction to the suggestion that she read Harry Potter - "One is saving it for a rainy day." Heheheheh.

Yooperchick said...

I've actually never heard of this one before. I really have to stop reading other people's blogs, b/c my request list at the library is growing by leaps and bounds!