The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
I have just put down one of the most delightful and heart-warming reads I can remember and I can’t stop thinking about it.
This charming little story is based on Queen Elizabeth II; but not as we know her. For the sake of this book, England’s ever practical and dutiful monarch suddenly becomes an obsessive reader at the age of 70.
Up until the day she accidentally stumbled on a traveling library in the palace grounds, HRH had been made to feel that reading, especially fiction, was an indulgent pastime. However after the first book led to a second and then a third, she was ready to relinquish all public responsibilities just to stay at home and curl up with a book.
I am not going to tell you too much of this story because it is such a short book and I want you to unravel it for yourself. Suffice to say, the Queens’ newfound preoccupation sends the palace into a spin. There is fighting amongst staff, royal schedules start falling apart, visitors are left baffled and there was even talk of dementia. For the Queen however, things had never clearer. Books helped her understand and connect with her subjects in ways she had never appreciated, taught her things in history she hadn’t previously understood and “just like a muscle”, she found her reading got better and better with every book she picked up.
Promise me you will read this book slowly. Enjoy it like a cup of tea at the perfect temperature and relish the way in which the author (UK living treasure; Alan Bennet also known for his award winning plays such as “The Madness of King George”) articulates the beauty of reading, writing and the power of independent thought… all with the kind of humour and irony that only the English can deliver.
As soon as I started this book I couldn’t wait to find out how it ended and am still smiling when I think about the final page.