The Queen has never had much time for reading but when she discovers a mobile library parked behind Buckingham Palace and decides to borrow a book, a whole new world is suddenly opened to her. With the help of her new friend Norman she reads one book after another and discovers that she has a real passion for literature. Unfortunately, not everyone shares her enthusiasm – and some people are prepared to do whatever it takes to stop Her Majesty from reading.
I have a feeling I’m one of the last people in the world to read this book (as usual) but I’m so glad I finally got round to it. Alan Bennett is one of my sister’s favourite writers and as we have such different reading tastes I never thought I would like him too. I’ve never been more pleased to have been proved wrong! This is a lovely, light-hearted, whimsical story that still contains a lot of witty observations, profound insights and wisdom.
In The Uncommon Reader, Bennett takes a humorous look at what it’s like to be the Queen and the pressure she’s under to conform to other people’s expectations. She is portrayed as an endearing character discovering the joys of reading for the first time and who just wants to be left alone with her books! It was interesting to watch the Queen progress as a reader, from being initially overwhelmed by the number of books available and relying on Norman to choose titles for her, to being able to make her own choices and develop her own tastes. Eventually, her reading begins to change the way she approaches her public duties and the way she views herself and the world around her.
There are some very funny moments, such as when the Queen perfects the art of waving from the royal carriage while holding a book in her other hand below the level of the window, and when one of her books is exploded because security think it’s a bomb.
Being a bookworm myself, I loved Bennett’s insights into the philosophy of reading and on almost every page there were quotes that every book lover will be able to identify with. I’ll leave you with a few of them…
‘I think of literature’, she wrote, ‘as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but cannot possibly reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.’
‘Can there be any greater pleasure’, she confided in her neighbour, the Canadian minister for overseas trade, ‘than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen?’
‘Books are wonderful, aren’t they?’ she said to the vice-chancellor, who concurred.
‘At the risk of sounding like a piece of steak,’ she said, ‘they tenderise one.’