The Uncommon Reader (2007)

by Alan Bennett

In The Uncommon Reader, Alan Benneft shows how the seductiveness of books can subvert the most well-ordered lives — even that of the queen of England. Discovering a mobile library van on the palace grounds as she pursues her escaped corgis, Queen Elizabeth II checks out a novel to be polite. The next week she checks out another one, and soon the queen is hooked on reading. She has Norman, a kitchen hand whom she'd met in the traveling library, moved to her floor of the palace so they can discuss her newfound interest. Books intrude on her official duties. The formerly punctual monarch arrives late for the opening of Parliament because she sent for the book she'd forgotten to take for the coach ride. Instead of the usual safe questions, she is likely to ask her subjects, "What are you reading at the moment?" Her attendants become alarmed by what they judge as eccentric and perhaps senile behavior. Behind her back, Norman is sent off to school — but the queen keeps reading.

The undercurrent of this comedic fable is a serious reflection on reading and what books can do to a person. It is also about the limits of reading. In her 80th year, Elizabeth decides that reading can take her only so far — and so her next pursuit will be writing. Her attendants are doubly alarmed.

The author of this short, clever book is a leading British playwright whose successes include The Madness of King George III and The History Boys, which won six Tony Awards, including Best Play, in 2006.


Home               My reviews               My friends' reviews