At some point in the past, somewhere in high school, my mother stopped recommending books to me and I started recommending books to her, which while it makes me feel good hasn't been bringing any new books in. So it was nice to get a copy of this one pressed into my hands after I'd enquired about it, with a knowing glint in her eye and a reminder that I was, on no account, to claim it as my own.
And I can see why my mother, perceptive and wise woman and occasional reader of this blog as she is, would recommend it to me, because it is a book about books, and I am always a sucker for that type of thing. The book is Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, a 120-page novella in which the Queen, while walking her Corgis, comes across a mobile library, borrows a book and begins an alarmingly intense love affair with books, to the detriment of her timetable, her staff, and the public at large. I devoured it last evening, perhaps nibbled is a better word given the length, and can happily say that I did enjoy it, so there's no need to start checking out nursing homes for the old dear (my mother, I'm not in a position to comment on the Queen) just yet.
The book feels like one of those silly conversations that you have in the middle of the night. 'What would happen if the queen suddenly became obsessed with reading?', where ideas are taken to their logical, or not so logical, conclusion and a subtle, snort-worthy humour is born from the juxtaposition of ideas. For anyone in the Commonwealth, the queen is a ubiquitous figure, and the idea of our stately and elegant ruler secretly reading Proust or Dickens while waving from the royal carriage or sneaking away from a dinner to catch a chapter or two is an amusing one. And of course, jokes at the expense of Prince Philip are always appreciated in my household.
'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?'
'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.'
'And I could do the pop,' said Norman.
'Yes,' said the Queen, 'We would make a good team. Ah well. The road not travelled.'
An amusing idea, and a diverting one, but not one of great substance, and I had hoped from the first half that the book that it was going to go farther than it did, and was left with the feeling that instead of telling me a story Mr. Bennett had merely told me a joke, all be it an extremely well-executed and charming one. I had hoped for something with just a little more bite to it, and though the book moves passably fast and the writing (though it's easy to write pompous Brits, for some reason) and the twists are most enjoyable, it's not a book that I'd be lending to most people who ask what I'm reading.
Which is just as well, after all, since I have to give it back. It has my mother's name in the front.
Number of Books read: 11
Australian dividend: 3.045
Science Fiction dividend: 2.5
Fantasy dividend: 3.5
Biography dividend: 2.5
Literary dividend: 1
Mystery dividend: 1.5
Humour dividend: 1