Thursday, March 24, 2011

What if the Queen became a bookworm?

I'm a bookworm - it says so in the web address for my blog. I always have a long list of books I plan to read and usually have a pile of them waiting. I don't spend much time online and seldom watch television either - there's little that interests me and it feels so wasteful, anyway - so I read instead. But what if somebody like the Queen of England became a bookworm? That's the premise behind The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.

The Uncommon Reader: A NovellaWhile on a walk with the dogs, the Queen stumbles upon a Bookmobile parked outside the Windsor kitchens, the only occupants being the driver and a kitchen servant. So as not to seem rude, Her Royal Majesty borrows a book intending to send it back the following week. And while she reads the book and finds it dry, she borrows another and begins an obsession with books. Previously enjoyable activities become a chore as they keep her away from her current reading. It makes her late for opening Parliament, and she perfects the practice of waving from the carriage while keeping her attention on the book hidden out of sight in her lap. She deviates from the usual conversation with the locals; instead of talking about the traffic, she asks what they're reading - often with uncomfortable consequences. Even the Prime Minister and foreign heads of state are not immune from her questions and suggestions on books to read. Her staff gets quite rattled with these changes, even stooping to undermine her habit, and her formerly impeccable attire suffers.

This is an easy to read novella which I finished in just a couple of hours. Once I started I couldn't put it down, and found myself laughing at the situations Her Majesty finds herself in. I'm not familiar with the author or other contemporary English literature, so I'm afraid that some of it passed over my head, but I couldn't help but sense plenty of subtle wittiness in it's pages. But anyone who's found themselves obsessed with reading will feel a sense of familiarity in the story and relate to the lengths she goes to indulge her habit, and some may even relate to her conclusions at the end. I found the writing to be very intelligent, and was forced to consult a dictionary several times with unfamiliar English words, and the style to be subtly humorous on multiple levels. You just might relate to it if you've ever found yourself unable to put a book down.  (And if you like this, you'll LOVE the Flavia de Luce mysteries!)

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