On an ordinary day, the Queen of England discovers a library bookmobile when out walking her dogs, she checks out a book more to be polite rather than from any real desire to read. However, she feels obligated to read the book, and with the help of a servant named Norman, discovers a wide world of books waiting to be read and enjoyed. And slowly, this obsession with reading begins to take over her life- to the point where she resents duties she once tolerated. Her servants and advisors, and to a small extent the public at large, view this desire to read as a habit which should be squashed, and in more than one place, wonder if she is going senile. As the Queen spends more time reading, she also spends more time ruminating on reading and writing, and how these things fit with life experiences. And by the end of the novel, she has come to something of a surprising conclusion.
When The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett first came out in hardcover last year, I missed it. But I won the paperback copy from Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program, and quickly read it. And let me tell you, I loved it. The Queen of England is an unlikely but charming heroine, and her addition to the rank of bibliophiles is humorous and light-hearted. I was struck by how random her choices seemed in places. She selected some books simply because they were available early on; later, she was more willing (and able) to tackle and understand some of the classics.
At the end of the story, I really only had one thought: it was fun. I had a lot of fun reading this novella. Bennett’s portrayal of the Queen is sly and witty. She comes across as being far more accessible than she does in real life (though it is never stated outright, the implication that this is Elizabeth II is clear). And it is the people around her who were stuffy and overbearing. None but Norman, her astute companion as she delves into literature, understand her new desire to read- and many look down on her for it.
This book is light and entertaining without being fluffy; I definitely recommend it!
Rating: 4 stars
Publisher, ISBN: Picador, 9780312427641