'The Uncommon Reader' by Alan Bennett was a nice little treat. I recall reading 'The Lady in the Van' many years ago and so enjoying his wonderful observational skills. Where that one was a true story about a woman living in a van at the bottom of his driveway, 'The Uncommon Reader' is an imaginary tale who's central character is the queen. Pursuing the corgis one day she finds a mobile library visiting the back door of the palace and being habitually polite decides to take out a book. Over the next few weeks, following the advice of Norman, a young man from the kitchens who is the only other customer at the library, she begins to delve into the extensive pleasures of literature. Her new hobby begins to dominate her life, to the consternation of Sir Kevin, her private secretary. She takes less and less interest in her royal duties and engagements, secreting books in her handbag that are consumed ravenously at every available moment.
What is so lovely about this little book is the mixture of reality with fiction. The queen is such a public person, we know what she does, all her comings and goings, but we have no idea who she really is or what she really thinks about anything. Alan Bennett is taking literary licence here, creating a persona for her, and one that is totally believable, I found myself becoming quite fond of her, but also quite sorry for her, she seems to be quite lonely and isolated, insulated from people by her inescapable social position. You see both sides of her existence, the confined and quite rigorously controlled life of public duties, and the private side of life where everything is done for her, if something inconveniences her it is simply and efficiently dealt with by an almost invisible army of staff. You also get the politics, both within the royal household and the government, and her role within international relations. Her newfound passion for reading begins to have an impact on all these things, and on her attitude to her job, until she reaches quite a momentous decision.
An intriguing little book, well worth the reading, so short it could be a pleasantly spent afternoon.