In his dotage there can be little doubt that Alan Bennett
is, indeed, a National Treasure! It is his incomparable
capacity to dignify the small details of lives lived quietly
behind net curtains; his dry, droll humour and perhaps above
all his innate humanity which makes his work so enjoyable.
These two stories, read by Mr Bennett, in this fine BBC Audiobook
recording, produced by Gordon House, find him as his hilarious best.
His capacity to combine the ordinary with the grotesque in these
tales stands up well to best which he has written in a long career.
His voice has become an old friend; a Maiden-Aunt of a voice whose
pursed lips seem evermore tightly drawn into a tight disapproving bud,
the better to deliver his unseemly observations! A voice overheard on
the top deck of a bus or across the liver and sausages on a butcher's
marble slab. The hidden and quietly improper voice of Little England.
Mrs Donaldson, in 'The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson, is a marvellous
invention. A widow who, to expand her horizons, takes on a job of
role-playing pathological conditions to medical students (another kind
of Naked Civil Servant' if you will!) I had not know that such an occupation
existed until now but Mr Bennett brings the gory details to life in all
their grisly scatological splendour! That her two lodgers also deliver
more than a little spice into her lonely world should not be begrudged.
Hilarity and pathos hold hands like familiar but uncomfortable bedfellows.
'The Shielding Of Mrs Forbes' is a wonderful confection too. A story
about secrets that are not really very secret at all. The small horrors
which lurk in the embers of a failed suburban marriage : lies, prejudice,
pretension and hypocrisy hung out like washing, with no hope of drying,
on a cold, grey, damp Northern morning. An unforgivingly vivid narrative.
There is a bit of swearing here and there (which Mr Bennett manages to
make sound more dirty than it might do in almost any other mouth!) so a
little caution might be in order if you have young ones around and don't
want to have to deal with embarrasing explanations. That said, it's a hoot!
'Smut' manages to be both seedy and quite precious in equal measure.