The Uncommon Reader is an charming novella about the worlds that reading opens up, and the consequences that can have. Queen Elizabeth II has spent her whole life carefully cultivating impartiality and doing her duty. This all changes when she finds herself in a travelling library by accident, and feels obliged to borrow a book. This leads to another book and another and another… (anyone who knows me well is groaning by now, since they know exactly where that leads.)
Bennett does a great job of portraying the repercussions of the Queen developing a hobby, both good and bad. She loses interests in opening ceremonies and other official duties, pays less attention to her wardrobe and earns the ire of her staff, who try to discourage her reading by hook or crook. However, she also starts to understands people better – books give her a window into how “normal” people think, something she has never been able to experience directly.
The writing is fabulous – subtle but poignant. The detached but biting perspective works really well for both political satire and as a tribute to books; Bennett makes you smile with every turn of phrase. The book is also very successful at showing us how truly alien the Queen’s life is.
Highly recommended quick read!
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Farrar, 2007 | Buy the book