Guest review 2 – and it’s Smut!!

Introducing my second Guest reviewer! EE has chosen Alan Bennett’s Smut. I haven’t read this yet – so I’m hoping that I can borrow it from her…

Sniggers and Smut

Alan Bennett’s ‘Smut: Two Unseemly Stories’

 

These two entertaining stories are full of the down to earth humour and deft social observation you would expect from this writer.  The brevity of this volume (slighter material than a lesser author would get away with for the price of a hardback volume) would make it suitable for book groups balking at ‘War and Peace’.

 

In these risqué tales, all the characters are putting on various kinds of acts in order to keep up appearances of respectability, usually only deceiving themselves.  In the first story, Mrs Donaldson, left with a certain emptiness in her life and her finances after the death of her dull husband, finds more diversion than she anticipates, taking in young lodgers and acting as a ‘Simulated Patient’ for medical student training.  In the second story, Mrs Forbes is a snobbish, overbearing wife and mother to her frustrated husband and secretly gay son but, nevertheless, the family feel they must rally round to protect her from unpleasant facts…

 

The predicaments of the main characters are shown with compassion and a wry comic eye as well as giving unsettling hints of a darker side to their sexual adventures.  The first story is, in my view, the finer of the two, evoking Mrs Donaldson’s dilemmas with an intimate sympathy which is missing from the more ‘knowing’ narrative tone of the second story.

 

I am underconvinced by the stories in one major respect.  The presentation of the women  characters seems worryingly outdated.  The stories are set in the present day, or something close to it – Mr Forbes hides from his wife on dubious websites and Dr Ballantyne grills his students about ‘the new polyclinics’.  Yet Mrs Donaldson, a modern fifty-five, is described as if she were decades older, in both her clothes and her sheltered gentility.  Of course, her primness increases the comic potential of the story; but the discrepancy about her age is odd.  Fifty-five is not as old as Bennett seems to think.  No, not even for women…

 

Sex aside, the marvellous role-play scenes with the medical students and the splendidly sarcastic Dr Ballantyne are the hilarious high point of the book, as well as being entirely convincing.

 

Entertaining and unsettling.

Smut: Two Unseemly Stories

Thanks EE! I agree that fifty five isn’t old; especially for a woman…

 

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2 Responses to Guest review 2 – and it’s Smut!!

  1. Anne says:

    I haven’t read this book, but I do find Alan Bennett’s stuff predictable, on the whole. I do like a lot of it, though. The one story that did have a happy ending, of sorts, was the one he wrote for Thora Hird when he knew she was dying and she wanted a nice end to the last story she would ever read for him and so he gave her that – and even that was a bit peculiar. As to the age thing, well he is a bit old-fashioned himself, so I think he’s thinking of his mother’s generation when 55 could be quite old. I would be interested to read this – perhaps when I’ve finished ‘I think I love you’ ?

  2. Barbara Fox says:

    Hi Julie, hope you get this – I thought I had an email address for you but don’t seem to after all. Just wanted to thank you for coming along on Saturday – we really appreciated both your moral support and your custom, both of which helped to make it a most enjoyable day for me and Mum! Hope all is going well with the studies! See you soon.

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