It seems timely when a certain book arrives and you are in just the mood to read it, which has happened with Alan Bennett’s most recent memoir ‘A Life Like Other People’s’. It has been a bit of a Bennett fest on the television of late here in the UK as Elaine at Random Jottings has been discussing to mark his 75th Birthday. He also has become some what of a national treasure which he says doesn’t sit with him very well. I read and loved The Uncommon Reader a while back and have enjoyed many of his Talking Head monologues, not just recently, but for a while in fact I had them on audio cassette when I was younger.
A Life Like Other People’s, which I keep wanting to call A Life Amongst Others though I have no idea why, is about his formative years though mainly it looks at the relationships of his parents. I don’t have any of Bennett’s previous diaries and memoires to compare this too, though I will be making sure that changes, though what I have always loved about Bennett is his ‘real writing’. He looks at people, and himself, and the actions of real people their emotions there thoughts the whole gambit. There are no tricks and though there is often drama its never written to be dramatic or to gain readers its simply life.
The simplistic and honest writing style is incredibly endearing. Scenes can be quite harrowing and emotional and yet there will be some slight comedy around the corner, its not intentional or planned it’s just the way it is. Two scenes that really hit me were between him and his mother, which almost made me cry, and his mother searching for her sister in a dementia ward. I loved the story of his parents wedding and why there were no pictures as his parents didn’t want any ‘splother’. You will have to read the book to find out just what that means and how they got around it.
Bennett was clarely very close to his mother, though of course he loved his father they didn’t have that same relationship. He seemed to get to know him best when he was driving him to see his mother when she was in hospital on several occasions for depression. In fact these trips, where his father got most annoyed about making sure everything was on time, showed a wonderful dedication between husband and wife, father and mother, that I found deeply affecting. I loved the relationship between them and think that love like that seems to be becoming much rarer in today’s society. I wonder if Bennett would agree. If only I could sit and discuss it all further with him over a pot of Yorkshire tea. We can all dream can’t we?
It’s not a long book and so I can’t really write too much about it without giving lots of things away. I think overall that poignant, in all its ways, is what best describes this work. If you like books about real people and real lives then I don’t think you can het much better. I can only wonder what his diaries and ‘Writing Home’ have in store for me to read in the future. I think 2010 may have to involve a bit of a Bennett binge as I also want to read the whole of Talking Heads again now too. What about you, what Bennett have you read and loved? Or is he someone you have yet to read? If it’s a case of the latter I can think of nothing better than whiling away an afternoon in the company of Alan Bennett. This book comes very, very highly recommended.