“I gather,” said the equerry, “that it might be advisable if Your Majesty were to see Sir Claude in the garden.”
“In the garden?”
“Out of doors, ma’am. In the fresh air.”
The Queen looked at him. “Do you mean he smells?”
“Apparently he does rather, ma’am.”
I came about The Uncommon Reader in an embarrassingly lazy way. Deep into Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon but making little headway in the books I had on hand, I Googled “best books under 200 pages” — looking for something I could breeze through to bolster my page count, basically.
One of the first titles to pop up was Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. And it was perfect.
From GoodReads, a brief description:
When the Queen in pursuit of her wandering corgis stumbles upon a mobile library she feels duty bound to borrow a book. Aided by Norman, a young man from the palace kitchen who frequents the library, Bennett describes the Queen’s transformation as she discovers the liberating pleasures of the written word.
With the poignant and mischievous wit of The History Boys, England’s best loved author revels in the power of literature to change even the most uncommon reader’s life.
This is a book about the joy of reading.
The Queen of England rediscovers books after a visit to a mobile library stopping by her property, and soon becomes addicted; she reads absolutely everything she can get her hands on (except for Harry Potter, in a random slight against the fantasy genre that annoyed me a little.) She begins shirking her duties as Queen, and her advisors privately scheme on how best to stop this mad new obsession.
The Queen, as a character is cute, endearing, a little intimidating, fiercely intelligent, and in her increasing frustration that she will never read all that she wants to, and her regret at not taking advantage of the great minds of England she had at her disposal without ever realizing their worth, sympathetic. There’s this running theme about the Queen’s age, and how she worried she had not lived but merely existed. How she regretted the shallowness at which she had previously enjoyed life, before her exposure to literature. It gave the novella a melancholic undertone.
And as I am a masochistic sucker for anything happy on the outside and sneakily depressing underneath, I was hooked.
5/5: Overall, it was a delightful, quick, funny, CHARMING read about devouring books and getting older. Would highly recommend to anyone who loves themselves some British wit and celebration of literature.