Factious Fiction: Alan Bennet’s The Uncommon Reader

Perhaps you know the term ‘factious’? No? A blank slate are we? Then memorize the second italized definition, for that is the one that will be useful in this book review.

fac·tious (fak′s̸həs): adjective. 1. producing or tending to
produce faction; causing dissension 2. adding facts to fictious
stories or things, characterized by the misplacement of

Alan Bennet’s new novella, The Uncommon Reader, is a light read about a dutiful Queen, a most pratical and attentive Queen, who takes to reading, of all things. Her servants put it down to dottiness, as at a ripe old age she begins thinking, noticing people, and reconsidering her duties and life.

The term factious is handy here, because Alan Bennet seems to be writing an imaginary fable about the joys of reading and self-discovery, except its about the real Queen of England with oodles of corgis and Diana’s death thrown in. A peculiar mix of fact and fiction, that is to say, factious. The dramatization of living people with stories that have nothing to do with them strikes me as a little odd, as if the Queen was a bird that wanted stuffing, if I may be so factious as to say so.

The Queen’s tone determines the whole novella, as it should since its her point-of-view, but it’s a pity her tone happens to be plain, uninsightful, and purely functional. Only at the end does the Queen take on some elegance and humor in her speech, and one gleans its a function of her reading. Novella-sized is the perfect length for its easily digestable but not inspiring tale. Amid teas and prime ministers and rain, it lacked only one British thing: that wicked sense of humor.

However, this homage to the written word did have its fun plot elements, such as the gay kitchen boy, and a neat ending, and its a pleasure to find something a little bit different on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. One also found the use of the impersonal royal tone never failed to please. Alan Bennet is a succesful author, whose most recent play is the The History Boys currently on Broadway. No doubt this little red book will find its way into many stockings come Christmas.

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