AN UNCOMMON (ROYAL) READER
In many ways The Uncommon Reader is the perfect book for modern times. It’s short, funny and very entertaining. Best of all it’s a reader’s book. That may sound a bit odd – I mean, aren’t all books for readers? Sure, but this book is about Queen Elizabeth II and her unexpected (fictional) discovery of books. One morning, while chasing her corgis, Her Majesty stumbles across the City of Westminster mobile library parked outside the palace kitchen. Out of courtesy she Borrows a book. It’s by Ivy Compton-Burnett and not an easy read, but the Queen’s upbringing compels her to finish it. A week later, she borrows Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and so begins her journey into the realm of books.
A NEW PASSION
It’s a fascinating voyage of discovery and the Queen is ably assisted by young Norman who works in the kitchen. Norman is – well, normal – and he and the Queen develop a firm friendship. He wakes up ‘to how sharp she was and how much wasted’. In many ways, this is the underlying theme of the story. Her Majesty becomes a voracious reader and, to her staff’s dismay, begins talking about books to the people she meets at functions. Eager to share her new-found passion, she no longer sticks to the script. It’s all very funny and so well-written that you find yourself believing every word.
Alan Bennett (who you can see here) has great fun depicting the Queen’s reactions to various authors. ‘Am I alone’ she says, ‘in wanting to give Henry James a good talking-to?’ She quickly discovers the pleasure of reading. Her Majesty had always put duty before pleasure, now books are having their way with her. ‘Books did not care who was reading them … all readers were equal, herself included’. The Uncommon Reader is brilliant on many levels but it’s also a delicious, edible morsel of a novel. And wait until you read the ending …