An Uncommon Reader, a novella by Alan Bennett

I believe I have never told you that I work in a library. Am I not lucky? I spend most of my days surrounded by books, so it was time for me to write about them.

I am going to make my debut on books with An Uncommon Reader, a novella by Alan Bennett. Why? It’s very simple: the main character is the Queen of England herself! Elizabeth II is the uncommon reader that one day, totally by chance, finds that a mobile library is parked near Buckingham Palace’s kitchens. Once there, she feels duty-bound to borrow a book: indeed her job is to show interest and that is what she does. This is how she meets Norman, the young kitchen helper, who was also in the library at the same time and will end up becoming her odd literary adviser; and this is also how the Queen discovers, amongst the library bookcases, the name of a writer she has actually met in person, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and that is precisely the book she borrows, thus embarking on her literary adventure. From Compton-Burnett she goes to Nancy Mitford, who she enjoys more, and from then she goes to the next book and so on she goes, until she’d rather spend her summer reading Proust than going hunting in Balmoral.

The Queen Elizabeth has discovered the pleasure that reading grants and this new passion alarms the palace staff. By reading, she finds out that she can live through books and literature and that her view of the world is changing dramatically, which is something that does not seem very convenient for the Queen of England. This new found love will soon lead to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

This brief and intelligently humorous novel is full of subtle doses of British humour. Alan Bennett gives shape to an extremely original story and a quite believable fiction, as, in the end, this is a story on the arousal of the joy on reading and its consequences. If you love reading as much as I do, I think you will be very fond of this book.

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