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Untold Stories Hardcover – 3 Oct 2005
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'Alan Bennett, with his combination of pitiless observation and gentle understatement, is perhaps the best-loved of English writers alive today.' -- Sunday Telegraph, 25th September 2005
'He can find more drama in a cup of Darjeeling than others could in a household of nymphomaniacs.' -- Rosemary Goring, Glasgow Herald, 8th October 2005
'I have never read a book of this length where I have turned the last page with such regret.' -- John Carey, Sunday Times, 2nd October 2005
'This thick book is so full of good things they could sell it for twice the price.' -- Daily Telegraph, 1st October 2005
'that's the Christmas present shopping sorted . . .' -- Imogen Stubbs, Daily Telegraph, 1st October 2005
Untold Stories is the wonderful sequel to Alan Bennett's classic Writing Home.See all Product description
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Those who have read and loved Writing Home (I book I rate as one of the best ever written) will have no difficulty picking this one. Indeed it is really more-of-the-same. More out-of-the-closet than this previous edition, but really nothing more than continuation and, at times, a revision.
The book starts with a rather depressing passage concerning his parents and relatives sad end. Although well written and moving, starting a book off on such a downer seems a risk. Despite his Winnie The Pooh front Bennett is a bit of a cold fish who can report on personal tragedy with a total detachment few can achieve.
(You ask questions to the page though. If he really did love his mother why did he park her so far from his home in her final nursing home days?)
Certainly he seems unconcerned with the reputations of others. Bald people seem to annoy him (he sports a full head of hair to this day) and results in several snide remarks. The problem with baldness (unless it is the subject itself) is that is rarely paired with anything good. Here he is snide about Alec Guinness's hairless head in a way which smacks of being personal.
The one thing which irritates (and sometimes cuts against his image) is his insistence on his own early intelligence. This is backed up by achievement (he went on to both Oxford and Cambridge!) but I prefer praise to be mouthed by others. A physically immature man/youth he could have (as an actor) played school yard parts until he was 20. The enclosed photographs show that he sprouted quite well and even became somewhat handsome in his shaggy kipper-tie prime.
What does the author do in his spare time? Visit churches and monuments it seems. Writes well about them, even though this isn't an interest of mine. His views on painting and art rarely go beyond like/dislike and given that he seems to have no specialist knowledge on the subject (and claims non) can't be critiqued. Unlike one-time partner Dudley Moore he doesn't have other strings to his bow.
(His views of his specialist subject - medieval history - are strangely muted. As if it was something of a random subject rather than any burning passion.)
The thing which is false is the sense that his diaries are really that: Diares. They are not. You don't write recollections of famous people in it. You write about what has happened. Certainly his wanderings (often unexplained in the "how come" sense) take in schools and even high security prisons. Places where they check someone isn't coming out pretending to be Alan Bennett!
In his opening pages AB writes that his family could never "quite be like other people" indeed he continues the condition. Still working and still being of interest long past retirement he remains a one-off and certainly not like everybody else.
He wrote the book when he was convinced it would become posthumous by the time it was published, after his cancer was diagnosed. Thankfully, he was treated successfully, and he is still with us, but this shy person achieved a level of candour a modest person, as he is can only attain, if they think, they would never have to face inquisitive questioning. His subtle sense of humour shines through, while you feel moved and fully engaged with every page.
LOVED it and bought it for every member of my family for xmas.
Worth it for the odd thing like this alone, I'd say.
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