The Uncommon Reader
You go to a book to have your conviction corroborated. A book, as it were, closes the book.
It’s all about the pleasure that lies in the discovery of books – a pleasure that’s only enhanced by age. The uncommon reader in the title is none other than the Queen who, on a walk with her corgis, stumbles upon a travelling library and feels it’s her duty to borrow something. What could very well have been a singular symbolic gesture becomes a passion and, aided by young Norman (whom she also finds in the library) the Queen begins to wade through classics and modern authors. And, like with any beginner, there’s not much method in her reading, but she does have the benefit of a unique life experience that is both an aid and a deterrent in the understanding of various situations (I particularly liked the episode with Jane Austen’s class differences).
Reading turns out to be such an engaging pleasure that the Queen’s public duties begin to suffer, to the utmost annoyance of the Prime Minister, her assistant and all her equerries. And, as it often does, reading turns her thoughts to writing and…well…you have to read the book to see what happens here. Not that there’s any actual stake – but the ending does throw a bit of a curveball.
Most of the characters are mere caricatures – as the Queen herself is in the beginning – only, as she reads, she becomes more and more fleshed out, more and more human, while everyone around her stays the same. Her disappointment in the gossipy bunch she discovers in various modern writers whose work she enjoyed, her shyness in front of them and her acute sense of her own limits and cultural gaps make her a perfectly relatable and rather endearing lady – as I’m sure a queen is not really supposed to be. Alan Bennett’s book is short, funny and to the point – and I liked it more than I expected I would.