I saw Bennett’s play The Habit of Art a few months ago and have been picking up his writing ever since. I found this audiobook of The Uncommon Reader at my local library and listened to it on a road trip this weekend.
Bennett himself reads the story and it’s wonderful. A novella that comes in at under 2.5 hours listening time, this hilarious tale depicts what might happen were the Queen to pick up reading as a habit. After chasing her dogs around back of the Palace, the Queen wanders into the local library’s bookmobile and ends up leaving with a novel and promoting a kitchen servant (who was borrowing books at the same time she was) to be her reading assistant. As she becomes more and more of a reader, her behaviour around and outside the palace changes, much to the consternation of her staff, family, and the general public (who are now being asked what they are reading as the Queen does her walk-bys.)
This novel speaks to the power of reading in a gentle and humorous way. The story is quite believable, in a sort of incredulous way, and the reading itself is wonderful, with Bennett voicing the various characters with much aplomb.
The National Post put me on to Cool Water by Dianne Warren in their review by Kathleen Govier. It’s a novel, but with a lyrical structure of intertwined short stories. Set in a small Saskatchewan town, it follows the lives of individuals and families over the period of a few days. As in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business, these stories intersect. The reader is able to look down on the town and watch as the stories overlap and interconnect. We read of a mother struggling to cope with her children as the family farm is in the process of being repossessed; the bank manager who knows too much about too many people in the town; a young man, adopted by Norwegian immigrants, who has inherited their farm and is anxious about his ability to manage it; a woman passing through town who loses a horse, inadvertently causing a rift between the owner of a diner and her husband; and a man and the widow of his brother who share a home and run the town’s drive-in.
While it is true to say that many of these tales are of loneliness, it’s not a depressing book. Rather, we watch how people cope with being alone, with striving to make a life in a small town where possibilities of social intercourse are perhaps limited. The setting is rural, but the emotions of living with others but still feeling alone, or of living alone and dwelling in the past could really take place anywhere. Warren’s characters are incredibly rich and well-drawn and I felt drawn into their lives. She has created a world that, as the reader, you fell you inhabit. The dryness of blowing sand, the heat off the sidewalk, the sweat under a saddle all jump off the page. An ideal summer read.