The Uncommon Reader, By Alan Bennett

Reviewed,Laurence Phelan
Sunday 20 July 2008 00:00 BST

While out walking the corgis one day, the Queen comes across a travelling library and, well practised at feigning interest in her subjects' lives, asks to borrow a book. She hadn't previously taken much interest in reading for pleasure – it being in the nature of her job not to have hobbies – and had only been briefed, which is the antithesis of reading: terse and with an end to closing a subject, whereas "reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting". Soon enough she is devouring all the literature she can get hold of, initially to the detriment of her public duties, but ultimately to the enrichment of her life and the betterment of her service to the nation.

The Uncommon Reader is a delightful little comic fantasy about the benefits of a good book, but the wonder of it is just how true it rings. Alan Bennett's dry wit and ever so English manner fit with our idea of the Queen perfectly, and his eye for domestic detail has us fully believing we are privy to the blossoming interior life of a character usually so private and unknowable.

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