Reading about two ladies

At my Sunday book club this afternoon we had nearly a full house, nine of us altogether and we were reading two contrasting novellas by the same author. We were discussing ‘The Lady in the Van’ and ‘The Uncommon Reader’ by Alan Bennett. Although we all enjoyed them  we had very different things to say about them which is what makes book club so interesting and thought-provoking!

Alan Bennett is a writer and dramatist who has written so many plays, screenplays, books it is amazing that anyone person can be so prolific. He was born in Yorkshire to a very ordinary couple, just like any of our parents, went to a grammar school and then Cambridge University. He is eighty-one now, so he has had a long career, and there are many really famous and well-loved works by him. Here is  a little list, only a little list of just the things I know of and have seen:

  • My Father Knew Lloyd George
  • A Day Out
  • An Englishman Abroad
  • Talking Heads
  • The Secret Policeman’s Ball,
  • The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball,
  • A Private Function
  • Prick Up Your Ears
  • Little Dorrit,
  • The Madness of King George
  • The History Boys
  • Better Late
  • Beyond the Fringe
  • Forty Years On
  • Getting On
  • Habeas Corpus
  • The Old Country
  •  A Question of Attribution
  • Talking Heads

The two short books we were talking about are both about women, but women who are poles apart from each other. One is an elderly homeless woman with mental health issues who parks her van on Alan’s drive and stays for over fifteen years. The other is the queen, Queen Elizabeth II. The first is a true account of Miss Shepherd, the elderly eccentric, and her bizarre life of poverty and destitution; the second is fiction, imagining the queen coming across a mobile library parked at the back of Buckingham Palace. The first stimulated a discussion on poverty, compassion, eccentricity, pride, hygiene, guilt, religion… The second got us talking about the role of the monarchy, our understanding of the character of the Queen – in the book and in reality, reading, writing, the difference between readers and writers… The hour we were together flew past!

If you haven’t come across Alan Bennett, here’s a brief biography:

… and as for what we are reading next time… ‘Ringworld’ by Larry Nevin, and then in July ‘The tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Brontë… we certainly do ring the changes!

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