The Uncommon Reader

I’m not a natural royalist, but who doesn’t love a good bit of bunting, novelty hat-wearing and uncomfortable live broadcasts where ex-Blue Peter presenters stand in the rain waxing lyrical about bridges for hours on end? Good times. I also like it when John Barrowman is in things for no obvious reason and a man just gave me a free balloon animal in the shape of a monkey.

So, to celebrate these jubilant times, here is a quick review of my favourite work of fiction about the Queen. In Alan Bennet’s ‘The Uncommon Reader’ the Queen follows a wayward corgi round the back of the palace and discovers the mobile library that her staff use. Out of politeness she borrows a book, then becomes drawn in to literature, even learning to read one-handed whilst waving to crowds.

The dialogue, too, is very pleasing:

‘Do you know,’ she said one afternoon as they were reading in her study, ‘do you know the area in which one would truly excel?’
‘No ma’am?’
‘The pub quiz. One has been everywhere, seen everything and though one might have difficulty with pop music and some sport, when it comes to the capital of Zimbabwe, say, or the principal exports of New South Wales, I have all that at my fingertips.’

The passage on the Queen’s opening of parliament is my favourite.

”My government will do this…my government will do that’ It was so barbarously phrased and wholly devoid of style or interest that she felt it demeaned the very act of reading itself.’

Alan Bennet is, as always, funny, satirical and insightful. The characters are written beautifully, particularly the scheming equerries. The ending is just right.

I like how it shows the impact that reading can have on a person and how transformative good literature can be. Long live the lady in the shiny hat, especially Alan Bennet’s version of HRH.

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