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on 13 November 2006
Some twenty years ago, mr. van Broekhoven, who taught us english, told us one day to be sure and watch a television programme called "Talking Heads" which would be shown on the BBC that same evening.

I loved it, right from the start. I was spellbound by the quality of the acting and by the words, especially by Alan Bennett's ability to put the right words in a character's mouth. He fashioned these truly moving stories out of little else but the dreary everyday life of ordinary people.

"Talking Heads" started me off on Alan Bennett and I've read a lot of his other work since, which I've also enjoyed very much.

Bennett writes with elegance, understatement and with uncanny empathy. He succeeds in really making these people come to life. One can't help but be moved by what these people tell us and you end up sympathising with them, pitying them, hoping they'll be alright, hoping it'll all work out for them. You end up sympathising with nasty small-minded people like Miss Ruddick, who is a poisoned pen-letter writer, with sad people like Graham, a man in his forties who lives with his mum, with a gullible, naïve half-wit like Lesley: a bit-part actress or "extra" who unwittingly, but unrelentingly cheerful and chirpy, ends up doing a cheap German nookie film, you even end up sympathising, awkward though it is, with a pedophile.

Yet there are no tricks, no ploys being used to achieve this, to draw upon emotions. It's just ordinary people telling their stories, revealing much about themselves, even those thing they would not want to reveal to a stranger. Reading this reminded me of a familiar experience: one feels as if being on a train, or in a waiting room. There is only one other person there and this person starts talking to you. You nod and smile politely, listen with half an ear, try and hide behind a paper or a book, but they just keep on talking, not even expecting a reply, just being glad of the chance to talk.

The form and the words are brilliantly chosen. There is so much in the little, throwaway remarks, in the seemingly unimportant. Much sadness, and loss and so much loneliness, sand painful self-awareness (or the absence thereof), much comedy, too, although these 13 people do not mean to tell a funny story. What they do, in fact, is to tell us the story of their lives (even if they do not really mean to) in little more than 30 minutes. Unwittingly they open cupboards and one or more skeletons fall out, as happens in all our lives.

Also, each of these stories has one or more wicked twists, which work marvellously: your perception of the story and of the person telling it is suddenly being tilted as the story sort of hits a bump. And after it's been given this jolt, nothing is quite the same.

I'll bugger off now but not after making 3 appeals:

1. Do not be put off by the fact that these are monologues, do not be put off by the fact that it's all about very ordinary people and do not be put off by the fact that all kinds of people about whose judgment is suspect (like teachers, critics, or indeed amazon-book reviewers) keep on telling you this is Literature, and great stuff. Just give this book a try. You will be amazed by the quality, the sensitivity and the common sense of the writing. You will probably end up as I did: recommending it to others.

2. Mr. Bennett: I know it's a bore being asked this, but could you find it in your heart to write some more of these wonderful monologues, to celebrate 20 years of "talking heads"?

3. BBC: bring them back!! Show them again, all thirteen of them, and do so every year, please.
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on 3 January 2002
The beauty of Alan Bennett's monologues are that as you read or listen to them, you assume things from phrases they say. And so, when something happens in the story, it surprises you, it turns out that the person is different to how you imagined,but it still fits with the story. Alan Bennett is a genius! His monologues really are superb.
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on 27 December 2001
Extraordinary tales of ordinary people. Not a lot happens, but the things that do have profound effects on people. This will make you laugh out loud, grit your teeth in frustration and sigh in despair at the characters and the situations they force themselves in to.
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on 14 December 2007
I am a fan of talking books, and I would describe many of the ones that I have heard as good, entertaining, thought provoking even. But this collection of stories stands so far above everything else that I have listened to that I can't see them ever being eclipsed. They are that very rare thing in literature - something that is brilliant, complex, moving - but absolutely not worthy, or 'difficult'. How many of us have struggled through a Booker prize winner because we 'ought to', when really it was too much like hard work? These stories are just so entertaining. You very quickly forget that they are monologues because the scenes and other characters are so real that you can see and hear them as if you were watching a full-cast production. You will be able to come back to them again and again because they are so rich with detail, and so beautifully written, and spoken, that they will always be fresh. If you are considering whether or not to buy these, then consider no longer. This is a cast iron guaruntee that tou will love them - and I don't say that very often, if at all.
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on 15 November 2002
Breathtaking is a word so often used to describe an offering from any artist, but this truly is. From simply observing the different and sometimes darkest side of human nature you find yourself completely engrosed and almost personally attatched to each charachter. His ability to exploit humor, and then drift into sadness and frustration without even seeming to step aside is superb. Within afew lines, even as early as the preliminary "setting", the personal effect his writing has takes you instantly into the situation and leaves you unable to exit until the sometimes bitter,sometimes hilarous, but always intriguing end. Each charachter seems genuinely real, the ordinary lives turning out as anything but. Of all this writers brilliant work this is unboubtedly the best (although "The Lady In The Van" is also worth a look, as is "Telling tales"...)to name but afew.
Amust for any fan of literature.
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on 18 February 2002
Talking Heads 2 is a series of short stories written and told from a single viewpoint, that of the narrator, the character in each play. The stories unfold through the "eyes" of each speaker, and the audience must picture the events and the people for themselves. Of course, the very fact that these accounts are subjective indicates that the speakers are not telling "the whole story." In addition to listening to an entertaining account of something that happened, we are at the same time learning even more about the narrators, perhaps more than they themselves realize.
Monologues by definition cannot use several defining features of drama dialogue, the interaction of characters, the clashing of voices and points of view. However, Bennett manages to create a detailed network of relationships for each Talking Head by means of reported conversations with others. They are beautifully constructed miniplays, each in its own way reflecting Bennett's marvelously observant view of the British way of life.
Bennett invests each piece with the kind of uncertainty and complex mix of possibilities that are so true. They are touching and real, and at the same time both tragic and funny. Originally written for television, they were played by Maggie Smith, Julie Walters and Thora Hird respectively.
As one of Britain's most distinguished playwrights, Bennett has exploded the old TV adage that nothing is as tedious as "talking heads" with his succession of riveting soliloquies titled just that. His monologues feature gripping stories, an intensity of delivery and a mastery of humour, passion and sadness.
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on 9 November 2001
if you are looking for an insight into the way people used to think and feel buy this book,if you want to be entertained buy this book ive had the talking heads books for a long time and i read them every six months or so and they never get tired if i came face to face with mr bennett i would thank him for bring such an amazing piece of art to the world
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on 21 November 1999
I am currently studying this book for my A levels. Our class chose to study this text after seeing the monologues on TV. Out of the five books in our study list this is our last, and it far outweighs the others.
I couldn't put it down!!! It is now my third time of reading, and each time I find more technical Wizardry by Alan Bennett. Satiric comments and sagas reflect real life. The undoubted humor of the characters and their situations, for instance, the Vicars wife who makes love to the asian grocer and Vera Whittaker who can knit tea cosies and hats ( if her son watches that she fills in the whole). There is only one monologue (the penultimate),that I didn't find interesting or of the same calibur as the others. It lacked the humour and character that was in the others.
I also found it took me a few minutes to follow the style of language. The use of I said, he said, she said became quite repetitve which improved when read aloud. I think that this work is more beneficial on screen than for reading, however I look forward to further monologues in this series.
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on 30 May 1999
Mr Bennett's characters are so true to life - they were in TH1 and 2 and Im sure will be in TH3. Whilst you try and not think about Patricia R and Thora H playing the parts, it is very difficult as the parts are so real! Some classic one liners and many pictures painted during each short story. As a Lancashire lass, my one wish would be to meet this very clever Yorkshireman and shake his hand. More please.
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on 21 April 2010
I first 'saw' these series of short stories on TV in Englamd. They were presented as a series of weekly monodramas. When I had a Toastmasters project to present a monodrama to my fellow club members, 'Talking Heads' sprung to mind.

I love Alan Bennett's writing style, tinged with sadness and very reflective of a life which has passed by. The characters are very much of their era in Britain at that particular time as regards their situation but the themes are eternal. In some respects I was reminded of Amercan writer Raymond Carver's book Where I'm Calling from: Selected Stories. Although most of his characters are losers, Alan Bennett's are of people who are getting by but have missed the boat, they don't quite fit.

The particular piece I read to the group was an extract from 'A Woman of No Importance' and the group was rapt their attention never waivered. It is quite a meloncholy story of minor office politics and of someone who is always on the outer but does not realise the fact.

I would thoroughly recommend this 'can't put down' book.
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