Sleep refused to settle upon me last night, and I finished The Leopard, and went to my shelves to carry on trying to find something alphabetical that I could read at 2 AM. Luckily, Alan Bennett's deliciously short The Uncommon Reader was almost next on my British shelf and its 119 pages meant that I finished it just before I finally drifted off to sleep. It was a cute book to read upon as we (Canada) are in the midst of a royal visit (in fact, I heard on the CBC yesterday that over 120 foreign bureaus/journalists will follow the couple on their visit as compared to the 24 that applied when the Queen visited was it last year? We're all a little entranced by the Duke and Duchess. As Lainey says; it's good for gossip...).
So, The Uncommon Reader of the book's title is The Queen, who has never truly read before -- for reading isn't necessarily "doing" anything and she's been a "doer" her entire life. An ode to reading with a cheeky sense of humour, Bennett's novella remains thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. Goodness, it's even got a fascinating vein of literary criticism -- of course The Queen wouldn't understand the nuances of Austen at first, having never lived among the lower classes. Of course, if she started her ready odyssey with Henry James, well, she might as well have given up all together.
One day, a travelling library shows up at Westminster and The Queen, on a whim, picks p a book by Ivy-Compton Burnett. Soon she's having Nathan, a former dishwasher and avid reader thus promoted to page, finding books for her from libraries all across London. They read books in aid of royal visits, they read popular fiction, they read the classics and all the while The Queen philosophically comes to understand the power of the written word in a way that was never presented to her before. The more she reads, the more she begins to write, and the more she begins to write, the more she decides she has something to say -- a voice, shall we call it.
I won't spoil the cheeky, cute ending but I will say that I smiled a lot while I was reading this book, even at 2AM when I really should have been sleeping. And, I've knocked another one off my shelves!