The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett


Hmm. When one is given a book by a dearly loved aunt, one reads the book, then wonders whether or not to be honest when reviewing the book. If one doesn’t enjoy the book and says so, will the dearly loved aunt’s feelings be hurt? One wouldn’t want that to happen, but one is also obliged to be honest when writing book reviews.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett is the first book I have read by this author, who has written a number of enormously successful plays, screenplays, novels and autobiographies, including The Lady in the Van.

The main character in The Uncommon Reader is the Queen. While walking the corgis in the palace grounds, she comes across a mobile library and borrows a book.

While the first book she borrows is not to her taste, the Queen borrows another and eventually, becomes a book worm. Her official duties start to suffer, but her opinions develop. Eventually, palace staff, politicians and equerries try to dissuade the Queen from further reading.

While The Uncommon Reader is clever, it wasn’t for me. I hadn’t read any of the books the Queen read, so couldn’t find a connection there, and the Queen was unfortunately put off reading Jane Austen by all of the people who told her how much she would enjoy her works, losing the one chance I had of being won over.

There were plenty of characters who are actual English politicians and society people in the story but as an Australian these were lost on me. Probably someone who knew of these people might have found humour where I didn’t.

I expect I’ll see the movie of The Lady in the Van sometime, but will probably not read another book by this author. This may be stupid of me, but life is short…

The last book I gave my aunt was about 15 years ago, Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie. Welcome to Temptation is a cheerful and smutty  romance which my aunt very kindly described as “great fun.” I doubt that Welcome to Temptation would make the Queen’s reading list though.





Filed under Author, Bennett - Alan, Book Review

13 responses to “The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

  1. RedHeadedBookLover

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  2. I’ve read The Lady in the Van and also The Clothes They Stood Up In, and didn’t get either one. The synopsis for The Uncommon Reader does sound interesting however from your review it sounds I may not get this one either.

    • I was a bit anxious admitting that I didn’t get this story, so you’ve eased my mind enormously by commenting, thank you so much! Maybe I’ll just watch The Lady in the Van movie.

  3. I did like this a bit better than you, because the references were familiar to me. But I don’t think it’s Alan Bennett at anything like his best. In fact, I prefer his autobiographical books to his fiction, and some of his plays for TV were brilliant. But I think he’s a totally English writer – not sure any of his stuff would travel well…

    • I knew it! This story reminded me a little of an ‘in’ group, with their own stories and jokes and history and unless you’re part of the group, you’ll never fit in. If the names were changed to Australian football players with football in-jokes, I would love it.

  4. I’ve just watched The Lady in the Van, followed by a rather charming documentary following Bennett across a year of his life (2015). And I found him the most charming companion. I’m keen to read some of his autobiographical stuff but the blurb on this book left me cold. I’d already decided – shock horror – not to add this one to the list. And your thoughts affirm that decision 🙂

    • Don’t let me put you off! I’m Australian, so I probably missed all sorts of references that an English reader would enjoy. I’m looking forward to watching The Lady in the Van though.

  5. Her Lady in the Van character and the Dowager Countess have a number of characteristics in common!