Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Smut by Alan Bennett (3.5/5)

The back says: One of England's finest and most loved writers explores the uncomfortable and tragicomic gap between people’s public appearance and their private desires in two tender and surprising stories.

In The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson, a recently bereaved widow finds interesting ways to supplement her income by performing as a patient for medical students, and renting out her spare room. Quiet, middle-class, and middle-aged, Mrs. Donaldson will soon discover that she rather enjoys role-play at the hospital, and the irregular and startling entertainment provided by her tenants.

In The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes, a disappointed middle-aged mother dotes on her only son, Graham, who believes he must shield her from the truth. As Graham’s double life becomes increasingly complicated, we realize how little he understands, not only of his own desires but also those of his mother.

A master storyteller dissects a very English form of secrecy with two stories of the unexpected in otherwise apparently ordinary lives.

I say: I was a tad reluctant to pick this up since I was rather disappointed with The Uncommon Reader, but since it was staring at me from the library shelf, I figured ‘why the hell not?’ And I’m glad I did because this is nothing like The Uncommon Reader.

That goodness for that.

The title is Smut, and since I am too lazy to research why he chose that title, all I am going to say is that perhaps the first story was smuttier than the latter. Although I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder. However, none of the ‘smut’ is the reason I liked these stories, in fact, the smut became just a form of necessary evil I had to read through to get to the interesting parts.

In The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson the best parts were those concerning her job at the hospital role-playing different medical ailments to students. I really liked the way Bennett described her preparations, the convincing way she lulled the students in, and just her utter dedication to it all. There were a lot of hilarious conversations and little episodes, and I simply wanted more of that.

The parts that had to do with her tenants I found rather boring, to be honest; and somewhat contrived.

I simply wasn’t convinced.

The same feeling crept up on my while reading The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes; it was just such a cliché. I am not going to give away what Graham is shielding from his mother, but as soon as I realised it I was disappointed. I will say this, he is having an affair with someone whom he believes to have randomly picked up, and then it turns out that they know more about Graham than he thought. Now this I liked very much. And even though the ending was rather anticlimactic, the story was short and sweet enough.

What I’m taking away from this little book is that Bennett is a very good writer, witty and awfully attentive to the little details in his character’s personalities that make them believable. I would say that the humour is quite typically British, which I love, and I may very well look up some more of Bennett’s work in the future.

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