Four Stories by Alan Bennett

Book Cover

‘Four stories’ by Alan Bennett. Recommended by Vicki – A Bury Libraries Customer.

“Before last year’s nationwide celebration of Alan Bennett’s Diaries publication, Keeping on, Keeping on, I wasn’t aware that his distinguished career as a writer, playwright, and actor spans decades. I thought of him just as about the author of an excellent state-of-the-nation play and film ‘The History Boys,’ which launched the careers of James Corden, Dominic Cooper, Russell Tovey and Sacha Dhawan.

But Bury’s library celebration of the diaries made me aware that they are only the last link in a chain of Bennett’s brilliant contribution to contemporary British culture. And the BBC programme ‘Alan’ convinced me of his status as a national treasure.

Ashamed of my ignorance, I decided to read one of his books. ‘Four Stories’ that consists of four novellas including, recently made into a movie ‘The Lady in the Van’, sounded like a good starter pack.

‘Father! Father! Burning Bright’ takes place during a grand funeral service for somebody who provided services to the great and good of the UK. The novel starts as a mystery and proceeds as a comedy of manners satirising the Church of England and everybody else.

The Clothes They Stood Up In’ tells the story of a middle class, middle-aged, going on old couple, who discover that while they attended an opera their flat was burgled leaving the couple with little material possessions beyond the titular clothes. The housewife sees this as liberation, and under pressure starts exploring diverse cultural options, while the husband, like a boomerang, stubbornly returns to the starting point.

‘The Laying on of Hands’ describes a family’s vigil by a hospital bed, touching on the hospital setting/present and school life/past’.

‘The Lady in the Van’, currently a film starring Maggie Smith, is the sad story of a woman whom Alan allowed to park on his drive in the van she lived in. The movie was shown by the BBC during the Christmas holidays, giving me the chance to compare the source and its translation into a different medium. The novel serves as a bridge between lightly edited diaries and a film script. It’s closer to the soap opera that is everyday life than to a neat 2-hour movie. It still has a beginning, development, and a tragic end, but it feels rawer, more emotional than full of flashbacks and explanations than the film.

‘Four Stories’ provides a panorama of everyday British life. The three upstaged novellas deserve being shown to the wider audience, but the advantage of reading books is that you can view your own movie in the privacy of your head. And Bennett’s stories are worth spending time with. I’m looking forward to reading all of Alan Bennett’s books in Bury libraries stock.”

Vicki

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