Languishing on a bookshelf at home is this book, ‘Writing Home’ by Alan Bennett. I recently took it down and read it, and I was saddened that I had not taken the time to do so before. I have owned this book for a long time, purchased from yet another second-hand book shop, this 1994 hardback was a random purchase because I simply tend to enjoy biographies a lot.
Alan Bennett is a writer naturally, and a former comedian alongside Peter Cook and other luminaries in Beyond The Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival. He mentions that he did not really fit in with the concept of entertainment like that, but just casually slotted in anyway. His very demeanour, appearance, background and basic personality, that are at odds with most normal acceptance, mark him almost as unique. His daily outfits resembling those of a man from the 1950’s, the sleeveless vee-necked pullovers, the shirt and tie, round rimmed spectacles, possibly the jacket top pocket crammed with pencils, rules and suchlike, looking like the very best example of the head of department school teacher. He remains that way because it makes him happy.
The first section in the book details his earlier life, and various attributes, and then we get an initial draft of ‘The Lady In The Van’ story, later made into a film (2015) with Dame Maggie Smith in the starring role.
Then there are the diaries, not strictly adhered to on a regular basis, but entries are from 1980 to 1990. Spasmodic, probably well edited examples of Bennett’s style of ironic observation feature largely. This all brings the book to approximately halfway through. His life as a Film/ Stage writer then gets in on the act, and it is full of anecdotal evidence of his laconic attitude to life. Other writers, actors and actresses, politicians, media hounds abound throughout the narrative. His attitude to others can be quite acerbic, and yet again, he tells us of others within his orbit who share the same demeanour, or worse.
The book has a great deal of humour in the writing, especially in the first half, then it becomes somewhat plodding as different attitudes and people get an airing in his mind. Having said that, the book is quite refreshing to hear his take on different people, many of whom, are no longer with us. The writing is that of an academically educated person, a man who notices things that others tend to ignore, perhaps. I enjoyed the book a great deal, and look forward to a second read sometime later on. I am glad I purchased it initially for a few pence, well worth the trouble.
Reginald Seward 4/1*
Writing Home by Alan Bennett
057117388-8 Faber & Faber HBK 1994