Book Review: The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett’s charming, clever, witty The Uncommon Reader is a novella which begs for the accessibilty of a nearby pencil and pad of paper; there are such astute observations on the transformative power of reading that most avid readers will want to ponder and share all the author has woven into the plot of this very funny book.

The story is straight and to the point:  the Queen of England has developed a love of reading.  So what?  Well, if you’ve ever succombed to the Harry Potter virus – meaning, you’ve let every last shred of housework, relationships, and personal hygeine fall to the wayside while you plow through another year at Hogwart’s with Harry – then you know how reading can both enrich your world and simultaneously pull you out of the reality of it.  But what if you weren’t the housewife or the co-worker or the school librarian, but the QUEEN OF ENGLAND?  What do you suppose would happen while you’re holed up in the den, sequestered in your newest adventure?  Yes, the stakes are a little higher for a Royal Reader.

It’s not just the international ripple which results from Her Royal Highness’ reading that makes the book so funny – it’s also the amazing voice that Bennett has given to the Queen.  She is touching and thoughtful; the feeling you get while reading is so microscopic and almost intimate.  I couldn’t help but imagine Helen Mirren while I read this book, mostly because she did such a fabulous job humaninzing HRH in The Queen.  Whomever I was meant to imagine while I read, by the time I finished I could certainly picture this fellow reader as a friend.

One word, because I notice these kinds of things:  there are three instances of brief, strong language that I found a little annoying.  They do nothing to further the plot, strengthen the characters, nothing.  I just couldn’t quite understand the sudden outburst of expletives (always from a staff member, not the Queen herself).  I wanted to mention this because it does come out of nowhere, and I believe this book is otherwise quite a gem.

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