Friday, 13 July 2012

Something for the weekend.. Smut

This weeks Something for the weekend is 'Smut' by Alan Bennett.

There's a lot of talk of sex in literature at the moment isn't there? '50 shades..' is everywhere, but I didn't have that, or that in mind when I picked up 'Smut'.
I've always like Alan Bennett's work, whether it be his autobiographical books, his plays & scripts,or his fiction. A particular favourite is his hilarious yet touching script for 'Prick up your ears' his adaptation for film of John Lahr's Joe Orton biography & indeed, reading Smut, I felt that had Orton been allowed to grow old disgracefully then 'Smut' would have been the sort of work he himself may have produced. It's that delightful, snappy, 'outrageous' dialogue - the oft-repeated question answered with a question that reminds me of prime Orton.
Here Bennett goes behind the twitching curtains in two novellas that both, in their own way, deal with sex, repression & to some degree class. The first story deals with Mrs Donaldson, she finds herself widowed & in need of a little extra money so takes in lodgers. When the student pair are short one month they offer Mrs Donaldson a 'private show' in lieu of payment, opening up new possibilities to the previously homely Mrs Donaldson. I love Bennett's characters, he can produce well rounded believable characters with just a few sharp lines.
The second story involves the preening, self absorbed, secretly homosexual Graham. He takes a wife as he thinks he should but his extra marital affairs lead him into danger, meanwhile all is not as it seems with his new 'plain' wife or his seemingly hen-pecked Father. This story is really all about secrets & lies. Every character's secret inner life being shielded from the other leading to complications that could have easily been avoided. Graham's Mother is a particuarly grand Bennett creation.
Beautifully written, with his trademark wit & biting dialogue this is genuinely a weekend read - I read it in a matter of hours. If you enjoyed the BBC talking heads shows then do have a look at this. It's very easy to imagine (for example) Patricia Routledge or Prunella Scales sat in a cosy armchair telling the first tale with a secret smile & darting eyes. I'd also recommend The Uncommon Reader , Bennett's tale of the Queens literary awakening as another quick but satisfying read.



Gary

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