The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett

– ‘What’s that?’
‘A book. I borrowed it.’
– ‘Dead, I suppose.’
– ‘The Beaton fellow.’
‘Oh yes. Everybody’s dead.’
– ‘Good show, though.’
And he went off to bed glumly singing ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning’ as the Queen opened her book.

In this short novella, the Queen herself stumbles upon a travelling library and, pretty much accidentally, gets into reading. The entire concept, though, is so foreign to the household (who are annoyed by the more and more thinking monarch) and the family (who are fairly happy to be left alone) that everyone gets upset with her majesty. Hilarity ensues.

Well, maybe not actual hilarity but definitely some very amused smiling – with a stiff upper lip, of course. After all, the queen is portrayed as fairly human and sometimes, my own upbringing seems to make a cameo:

‘To tell you the truth, ma’am, I never got through more than a few pages. How far did your Majesty get?’

– ‘Oh, to the end. Once I start a book I finish it. That was the way one was brought up. Books, bread and butter, mashed potato – one finishes what’s on one’s plate. That’s always been my philosophy.’

That has been my philosophy as well and certainly is the main reason my DNF shelf actually consists of one single solitary ashamed book. Judging by the quality of many of the books I’ve read, I could have saved years of my lifetimes by actually DNF’ing more often. But I digress.

It’s all this books fault, though: It all but invited me to think beyond its edges, between the pages and the lines and let my thoughts fly, just like her majesty:

What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.

We – as readers – know exactly what she means and how one book leads to the next; opens up new (reading) paths to follow. This book for example came from a recent blog post on GoodReads.

Plus: This fictional queen has a wonderful take on books:

‘Pass the time?’ said the Queen. ‘Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.’

The entire book was a true breath of fresh air after the stocky, stuffy, simplistic confines of David Eddings’ Belgariad. It’s by no means a masterpiece or more than just highly amusing but I really enjoyed the entire literary journey and the coming-of-age of a reader.

The only issue I take is with the ending; but We will graciously overlook this slight demerit as one is wont to. 😉

‘I think of literature,’ she wrote, ‘as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.’

View all my reviews

Leave a Reply