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.
3.5 stars rounded up to 4 because I’ve always wanted to say that I was reading smut.
My only familiarity with Alan Bennett’s work was seeing the film The Lady in the Van, which amused me greatly. These two pieces of short fiction, The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson and The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes, were also amusing in a somewhat different way. The author admits to using the title Smut to forestall the critics who were likely to label it as such.
Truly not very smutty, these stories are more meditations on our social hang-ups about sexuality and our reluctance to talk honestly about it. I must say that I preferred Mrs. Donaldson because I could relate to her more easily that Mrs. Forbes. I enjoyed how she took two moneymaking propositions and found ways to make them more fun & interesting while also being able to annoy her rather judgmental daughter. Mrs. Forbes, on the other hand, would probably have gotten along with Mrs. Donaldson’s daughter.
Not much to say about this one other than that it was a bit of a disappointment:
The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson, I have no doubt, was penned to shock more than it was penned to incite thoughts about the perception of quiet, middle-class, older ladies. But Bennett's taking apart of assumptions about quiet older ladies was the much funnier than the completely implausible plot twist. The only time I got a giggle out of this story was at the very end when Mrs Donaldson turns down a proposition because she's not finished reading the chapter in her current book, yet.
The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes, was weird but thankfully it was also instantly forgettable.
Un mercoledì qualunque, la regina s’imbatte nella biblioteca circolante e inizia la grande trasformazione.Sua maestà scopre il piacere di leggere, e la lettura sovverte ogni regola.Si sa: i libri aprono porte imprevedibili, producono pensieri o pensieri inimmaginabili, accendono idee inaudite, scuotono coscienze. Financo le coronate.
“ È possibile che io mi stia trasformando in un essere umano. Non sono convinta che si tratti di un cambiamento auspicabile."
Leggere rende più umani, più uguali; le distanze si raccorciano, i muri si riducono. Ché ai libri non importa chi sei e cosa fai, ai libri interessa avere un lettore che li faccia vivere.
Riletto in compagnia, confermo la piacevolezza di questo Bennett dalla scrittura lieve e sorridente con un pizzico d’irriverenza e garbata ironia.
The musings of Alan Bennett, based on his observations of people and his experience of life in general, are almost guaranteed too draw a smile from even the most world-weary. As one reads his diarised account of life after the eccentric Miss Shepherd had moved her clapped-out van into his front garden.....and then stayed for fifteen years, it is hard not to be touched by a mixture of humour and pathos, which is both funny and moving in equal measure.
So improbable is the bizarre sequence of events that 'you couldn't make it up' and the knowledge that Bennett is recounting 'real life' somehow adds to the riveting nature of the book. Though now a 'major motion picture' starring Dame Maggie Smith, as I read, I could frequently 'hear' Bennett's distinctive northern, nasally voice, wanting to remain compassionate, but nonplussed by the chaotic and seemingly irrational choices made by his visitor. Yet, it is hard not to have more than a sneaking regard for the enigmatic Miss Shepherd. Though seemingly destined to persistently rail against conforming to social norms, Miss Shepherd is nonetheless like an iceberg, with only a small fraction of herself showing above the community waterline. Indeed, perhaps it was the prospect of hidden depths, which so intrigued the author.
Still, we can also applaud Mr Bennett for his very uncommon response, in the circumstances, which has permitted a tender, yet unsentimental portrait of a fascinating human being. Since, Miss Shepherd could potentially be any one of us, Bennett also manages to make a powerful case for tolerance and an acceptance of difference. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, there is perhaps an argument here suggesting that same village may also foster a dignified end of life for our elders.
By including an epilogue, the author also provided a thoughtful conclusion, which deftly answered some of the questions arising about Miss Shepherd's past. This was my first foray into the written work of Alan Bennett, but from this example, it is easy to see why he is regarded by many as a national treasure. I look forward to more dipping into a substantial body of work.