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on 4 January 2016
This is a very short read amounting to 100 pages of relatively large print for an almost half-size paperback. In buying it I wasn’t sure what I would gain from it that hadn’t been portrayed in the film, which I really enjoyed, however it IS worth reading. What comes across in the book is a fuller portrait of Miss Shepherd than we see in the film, including a much more graphic account of the squalor in which she lived, something which is alluded to, but never seen in all its filth in the screenplay. There were two or three occasions when I gasped at what I had just read, it was just so revolting that a human being could choose to live in these conditions. What is also more apparent in the book is Bennett’s protectiveness towards Miss Shepherd when she is taunted by those who see her as a source of amusement. This softer side to him wasn’t always demonstrated in the film.

I would say that the film and the book complement each other and that there’s no reason not to treat yourself to both! My one gripe with the book is that for its size it is a VERY expensive read per page – time your purchase for when it’s on offer.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 November 2008
'The Lady in the Van' is a completely true story. In the 1970's and 1980's outside Alan Bennett's own house in Camden an old lady (Miss Shepherd) lived in a Van in the street. After a time she could no longer stay on the street. Amazingly Bennett allowed her to move her Van into his garden and there she remained until she died.

This is a remarkable story, and its one of the funniest yet moving pieces of writing that I have ever read. Bennett is a marvellous observer of people and his humanity shines through. Miss Shephard's living conditions were frankly disgusting (just think of the smell) and this would be enough to put most people off having any contact with her at all.

Bennett here has written one of the finest works of moving and poignant non-fiction I know of.
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on 19 July 2009
Miss Shepherd is in many ways a typical Alan Bennett character - often very funny yet sometimes tragic and with an interesting tale to tell. She could easily be one of the characters from his 'Talking Heads' monologues. However, this is a work of non-fiction and she actually did come with her collection of plastic bags to live in her van on his front drive - and stayed for a number of years. Bennett brilliantly manages to convey the delicate balance present in their complex relationship, even when it doesn't show him in the most positive of light. As he puts it: 'One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation.' Don't we all know someone like that?

As the book was created from notes he had made relating to Miss Shepherd in his diary over a number of years, there is not one story running through this book. What emerges, however, is an honest and touching but never sentimental story of a enigmatic character - a real one-of-a-kind.
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on 25 November 2015
Delightful book, read it in one sitting !! It does remind you there are homeless people that need a helping hand through no fault of their own. We went to see the film which highlighted how vulnerable people are. A few laughs too.
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on 13 December 2015
I enjoyed this but was startled to realise how short it is. It's 22 pages long. It's a short story and it would have been helpful to understand this before I spent my money..
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on 1 September 2015
This is such an interesting light read. Not only is Alan Bennett a talented writer, he is clearly a very kind and tolerant human being. He has found himself in a unique situation that not many of us could live alongside - nor our neighbours! He describes the practical issues if Miss S camping on his driveway tactfully with a degree of humour and, on occasion, very slight irritation. What a better world this would be if there were more Alan Bennetts in it.
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on 6 June 2014
read this story before also seen the play at the theatre by the lake in Keswick. The play had other experiences in it there are so many lines in it which have pathos and humour - I know the story is true but it really is a larger than life experience. In the play she is painting the van and Alan Bennett asks what the colour was Hues of Mimosa was her reply and the reason why it was lumpy is because she had dropped her cake in it.

I could go on forever about his writing absolutely fantastic her passing away and the story around it was very poignant
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 November 2015

Already produced as a memoir and well-received play, the tale of the eccentric “Miss Shepherd” who squatted in a dilapidated van on the forecourt of Alan Bennett’s London home for fifteen years, has now become a film. It is marked out by Maggie Smith’s superb and flawless performance which captures a sense of the maddening, manipulative woman who is tolerated, and even helped in an ineffectual way, by a possibly somewhat caricatured group of comfortably off, self-styled liberal-minded middle class neighbours too polite to behave otherwise.

Commencing in the 1970s, the drama has the nostalgic air of past, somehow more innocent and less fraught times, predating the tight parking restrictions, health and safety concerns and care plans for the elderly (however inadequately implemented) of today. When the council comes round with a yellow-line painting machine, Alan Bennett caves in and allows the new van donated by a local titled Catholic do-gooder to be driven onto his driveway. It is not long before Miss Shepherd conducts her ritual of plastering the vehicle with yellow paint thickened with lumps of Madeira cake.

Alan Bennett uses the interesting device of cloning himself as the put upon resident and more cynical writer (given to talking to each other) who recognises Miss Shepherd’s potential to be milked for future publication. To some extent, the two main characters use each other, with the comic touch of Alan conducting a conversation with the old lady while his alter ego interjects “but this was never said – I made it up”. Such is the old lady's reticence that Bennett does not discover the full facts of her life until after her death, which lead him to reflect that, despite her years of confined existence, she has perhaps in some ways had more firsthand experience than he has, being forced to rely on observing others for his material.

The story is full of humour as when Alan’s assumption that Miss Shepherd’s claim to having been “followed home by a boa constrictor” is a sign of her madness is undermined by the discovery of a snake in a neighbour’s garden following a mass escape from a local pet shop. Yet beneath the laughter is the deep sadness of the wasted life of a talented pianist who was forced to give up playing following her insistence on becoming a nun, a calling to which she was clearly completed unsuited. There is also the tragedy of as society which cannot cope with an individual who is highly talented yet difficult to the point of being labelled mad - also the irony of the social services coming too little too late to the scene, and failing to understand Alan’s pragmatic, literally “hands off” support. Bennett pulls no punches over the squalor involved in van-life, and the acting captures all too accurately the indignities of old age, the incontinence, increasing unsteadiness, aggravated by poverty. So, one comes away laughing but also sad for a tale of lost promise and over intimations of one’s own fate in old age, and guilt over not helping elderly people more.
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on 23 April 2012
This book is small, short, happy, sad and sweet. It was a perfect gift for someone who appreciates the human side of humans. Perfectly written, honestly described and just right. Some people are very special and this book contains more than its fair share of them all told.
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on 19 October 2016
The wonderful true story of Alan Bennett's long acquaintance with the cantankerous Miss Shepherd. When her van, in which she lives, breaks down permanently it, and she, become a permanent fixture in Alan's garden for 15 years until Miss Shepherd dies.

It's a love-hate relationship where the old woman refused Alan's invitations to come indoors and take a bath despite the van's appalling living conditions and Miss Shepherd's complete disinterest in any form of hygiene. But what a wonderful, spirited character she turns out to be and I felt great protectiveness for that grumpy yet funny and fascinating old lady.

The two are constantly at odds but Alan has far too much compassion to evict her from his garden and quickly develops respect and affection for the old lady. It's a truly bizarre situation, but I would expect nothing less from the delightful Mr Bennett.
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