Thursday, 19 July 2012

A Year in Books 2012 - Smut Alan Bennett



There was a time when I would anything that Alan Bennett had written, devour his diaries, I'd see his plays at Leeds Playhouse, never miss a Talking Heads. I loved the mixture of whimsy , nostalgia , acid tongue , intelligence through humour , the conflict of working class pride with a slight sense of embarrassment and intellectual snobbery, mainly his own brand of englishness.

The two anthologies of his work Writing Home and Untold Stories are great examples of both his singularity of voice and his variety of style.

It pissed me off a bit when he became vocal in his criticism of a former place of my work but hey no one is perfect.

I'd not read anything for a while and so was really looking forward to Smut - two unseemly tales.

Too long to be called short stories but too short to be novellas , they are odd bits of writing. The usual themes are there. Someone hiding in respectability but not really fitting in, pretending to be something they aren't. There is a sense of the ridiculousness of everyday life , a sense of confusion with the modern world , and sentences that sparkle with a mischievous sense of humour.

The titles of the 2 pieces tells you a lot about Bennett's writing.

In the first The Greening of Mrs Donaldson, a middle aged widow has taken in medical students as lodgers , whilst also finding work impersonating illnesses for trainee Drs. When her student's fall behind with their rent they suggest a novel way to clear the debt. What follows is a sense of awakening and acceptance.

The second story The Shielding of Mrs Forbes focuses on a newly married couple and the groom's mother , father and gay lover. All of the characters are pretending to be something they are not as sexual complications build . At times it reads like a west end farce and there lies the problem with both stories.

I'm not sure pure fiction is Bennett's strength and could help feeling these would work better as one act plays our hours long screen  plays. There is a part where the death of a character is referred to having "more to do with narrative tidiness than any driving without due care and attention"

Overall there is more than enough to enjoy , but published on their own , there is a sense of wondering what prompted Alan Bennett to write them. 


You can buy Smut here

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