Smut, By Alan Bennett

And here's to you, Mrs Donaldson

A marvellous little book, small enough to put in a jacket pocket and so delightful that you'll want to keep taking it out again, Smut consists of two novellas which are, well, smutty.

In the first, "The Greening of Mrs Donaldson", the eponymous heroine is a 55-year-old landlady who earns extra money by faking maladies as a patient at the local hospital, for medical students to practise on; she also takes in lodgers, and when the lodgers fall behind with the rent, they suggest an unusual method of payment. I don't want to spoil the story, but let's just say it took me completely by surprise, made me laugh aloud, and involves tea and chocolate biscuits. The second story, "The Shielding of Mrs Forbes", concerns an extremely handsome young man who decides to marry an extremely plain but extremely rich young woman. Both are in it for what they can get, and both of them get it and a good deal more besides. Part of the pleasure here is the unexpected mis-match between respectability and unseemly behaviour, but there's much more to it than that. These novellas are good enough to re-read and enjoy even when the events are no longer unexpected, and the reason is Bennett's sweet, easy prose. There is no sense of effort at all here. It's like watching an expert dancer dance, or an expert ice-skater skate. He just knows how to do it, and that's that.

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