One of the bonuses of having read so much (with all my hospital and recovery time of late) is that I have managed to get lots and lots of reading done and have lots of reviews at the ready. However when you pick up a book that’s freshly arrived and you simply can’t wait to discuss it, it involves a fair bit of regigging but for a book like Alan Bennett’s latest ‘Smut’ it is definitely worth it. I had mentioned at the weekend how excited I was about this novel and the book thoroughly lived up to all my expectations when it dropped through the letterbox yesterday morning and had been read by teatime.
There are ‘two unseemly stories’ which make up ‘Smut’. Both look at the rather more racey and sexual side of different peoples lives. The first story is of ‘The Greening of Mrs Donaldson’ a tale, which would sit comfortably in Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ collection (which I have very recently read and as yet reviewed anywhere), of a widow who after her husbands death needs to increase her income and so takes on a rather unusual job which brings along a possible suitor plus, and in some ways rather more importantly some lodgers who are forever running late with their rent. These two strands lead Mrs Donaldson into an unlikely situation which, without giving too much away, opens up her eyes to a side of life she thought she knew about and yet really it seems, rather unseemingly, didn’t.
“Mrs Donaldson’s first instinct was to look away so that rather than frankly considering this naked young man kissing his equally naked girlfriend with his hand buried between her legs she found herself looking at the floor and wondering if it was time she had the carpet cleaned.
‘Bring back memories?’ said Laura, Andy’s face now where his hand had been.
‘Ye-es,’ said Mrs Donaldson, though the truth was it was a memory of a vase in the British Museum.”
The second of the tales ‘The Shielding of Mrs Forbes’ is rather different and in some ways a less lovely and insular world that Bennett often wonderfully writes. In fact it’s a tale of a whole family, who are welcoming a new member through marriage, and all the secrets that they hide. Mrs Forbes is a wonderful matriarch adoring her son Graham and rather disliking his new bride to be whilst Mr Forbes, a rather silent man, looks on. As the wedding approaches the reader begins to see that for not of these characters things are ever as they might initially seem. It’s a rather wonderful farcical family tale, to give too much of it away would be a disservice to anyone who goes onto read it – and you should, which has all the witty observations of people and their lives we have come to know and love in Bennett’s writing.
“For though she could never admit it, Graham’s mother blamed herself for calling him Graham in the first place. In the years since he was born her sights had risen and Graham was not nearly the classy name she’d once thought. She wished now that she could get rid of it as she had got rid of the dark oak dining suite that belonged to the same period.”
‘Smut’ is a pure delight to read. Alan Bennett takes his readers both into a familiar narrative in the first instance and a rather new, and slightly more explicit, one in the second. It’s a collection which proves eye opening and outrageous all in one and shows a new side to Bennett which I hadn’t encountered before, keep in mind I haven’t read all of his works though, and really enjoyed. It’s a tale which, as Bennett himself said in an interview recently, shows ‘there’s nowt queer as folk’. 10/10
This book was kindly sent by the publisher.
This was a delight to read, and done so in a single setting. It has of course made me want to re-read and re-watch all the ‘Talking Heads’ once more plus revisit ‘The Uncommon Reader’. I think I might try something new though and head to his diaries next instead, are they any good? Which Bennett novels have you read, any recommendations?