The Common Reader

I’m in the middle of watching a few of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads.  They’re really excellently acted, and are tremendous snapshots of subtle, complex, sympathetic and fallible humanity.  I have also just finished reading The Common Reader – a novella by Bennett that describes the accidental falling in love of the Queen (Elizabeth 2, that is) with literature.

It’s all very delightful, and is characterised by constant, albeit low key, humour.  The central conceit — that Liz would neglect her duties and frustrate her family and aides due to her obsession with, for example, Jean Genet — is a pretty good one.  Nonetheless, less is often more (as the cliché goes) and it’s possible that, rather than a novella, it ought to have been a novelette.  I think I would have been happier for it to have ended before it did — largely this is because of the disjunct in tone between the main part of the story and its conclusion.  One of the strengths of the novella is the plausibility of what occurs.  Of course it wouldn’t actually happen, but, still, Liz’s actions seem in keeping with what little we know of her character. “Ah yes”, you could almost say, “that’s classic Liz.  She so crazy…”.  The final scene, though, just seemed discordant.  There’s a shift from amiable fiction to fantasy.  I guess Bennett wanted to go out on a bang, but I would have preferred a whimper.

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