Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Next Book

I don't know Emily's next suggestion but will give it a go. As for the Proust, I have toyed with the idea of reading this in the past but usually have decided that it was not really up my street. It would really be a winter selection I think as I am making the most of the outdoors during the summer and will be soon asleep over it if I try to read it during the evenings. Not a good time for me.

Alan Bennett

I restrained myself from reading your blogs before finishing The Uncommon Reader so as not to be swayed in my opinions about this book. I was delighted to find that you also enjoyed it very much. I read most if it on the bus trip to Uckfield where I had to stifle my giggles at the humour particularly in the first half. ' In my day, it was called personnel' although actually it wasn't it was called the servants. The many digs at Sir Kevin and New Zealand, always asking about the sheep shearing. 'What ethnic classics diid you have in mind, Sir Kevin, The Kama Sutra?' It was Henry James she was reading one teatime when she said out loud 'Oh do get on!' Does the latter not ring a bell?

Alan Bennett has used not only the stereotype of the Queen but also the royal family, New Zealand, Wales, ('Bad luck, ma'am), gays, guards and many authors, cleverly switching from one subject to another, raising a myriad of current issues in a very precisely choreographed manner and ending on a very unexpected note. All in 121 pages. Brilliant!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Very uncommon indeed

Gorgeous book - thanks so much for choice. Loved it. Favourite quote (always hard to whittle down with him, but this is the one that caused me to laugh out loud): "the duke waving viciously from his side, the queen listlessly from hers". Although I also very much benefitted from the idea that reading is a muscle, which needs to be exercised to strengthen. And also very true - if the queen's second book had been a dud, she might have given the whole thing up. How often is that true in so many spheres! Like Val, I enjoyed her reaction to Austen - her own status being so far above everyone else's, the nuances of difference within middle classes or whatever rather too slight to show on radar. I think similarly people in extreme poverty have us in the same economic bracket as Russian billionaires, even though we see ourselves as very different!

And what a fun conceit for the novella. Like Helen Mirren in The Queen, I KNOW it's fiction, but it felt convincing enough to quite possibly happen to be a right guess as to their personalities and private interactions. I don't know why he didn't do it as a play, but it worked so well as a novella, I'm not really wondering. If it had been a play, a number of my favourite bits would have been lost, so hooray for Bennett knowing what he's doing. And how.

Have been wanting to read Proust for years. Some say "Remembrance of time past" (A la recherche de temps perdu) is the best place, even though it's some volumes in. Anyone on for this?

Next suggestion

Once we've finished Alan Bennett, I'd like to suggest "A breath from elsewhere" by Mirabel Osler which, having given Val, I've borrowed back. It's a gardening memoir, but not long, and I think it would be fun to discuss. There's a copy in Valerie's library system but I can't check Helen's. I'm sure we can get Val's copy to you, Helen, if you need it. Let us know.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The uncommon writer

I think this works on every level:
As a story, using the Queen as a vehicle for Bennett’s views on reading is unique and well crafted. There is lots to ponder on ( such as the difference between reading and writing) and, with nothing else to do, one could read everything HM read (most of which I haven’t. Anyone for Proust?) It is perfectly a novella but a lesser person would have tried to extend the idea into a novel and that wouldn’t have worked.

At the level of the idea or paragraph we have such Bennettesque gems as “…she had handicaps as a reader of Jane Austen that were peculiarly her own. The essence of Jane Austen lies in minute social distinctions, distinctions which the Queen’s unique position made it difficult for her to grasp. There was such a chasm between the monarch and even her grandest subject that the social differences beyond that were somewhat telescoped. So the social distinctions of which Jane Austen made so much seemed of even less consequence to the Queen that they did to the ordinary reader, thus making the novels much harder going.” p 75. As soon as he says it, it makes sense, but who else would think to say it?

At the level of the phrase we have “Start off in the middle. Chronology is a great deterrent” p 97 or “ Surprised to find himself discussing his own subject, the professor was momentarily at a loss.” P 106. The joy of reading Bennett rather than viewing his plays is that you don’t miss any of these – sometimes in films such as the History Boys they come so thick and fast that One is exhausted and terrified of missing something.

As in A Question of Attribution, the Queen is portrayed with affection, acuity and dignity and One longs to know if she has read this. Why does she surround herself with such poisonous individuals (does she?) and why are they all gay? Not a job for a real man?

Talking Heads are, I think, the best TV dramas I have ever watched, and although this is good, it doesn’t come close. Maybe because there is no element of tragedy? Why didn’t he write it as a play?