Smut, by Alan Bennett. Pub 2011
Another point-of-purchase purchase, I had planned this as a Christmas gift, but decided after starting to read it that it was now mine. I have only read one other Alan Bennett (The Uncommon Reader), but have also seen the film based on his semi-autobiographical The Lady in the Van – both were delightful, and so another opportunity to read something of his was welcomed.
The title gave a bit of pause, but I shouldn’t have worried – these stories included the cleanest smut one is likely to find in modern literature. The indelicate circumstances are a sidebar to the true secrets of the characters – the elaborate and extraordinary guises they create within their various relationships. I assume it is this lack of honesty – this extreme pretence – that Bennett considers unseemly. Not a single character is without a hidden identity, a secret illicit life that they both prize and despise, and while that ultimately makes none of them wholly sympathetic, there is a truth to their duplicity that likely most can relate to – we all of us have some way we see ourselves or like to imagine ourselves that is quite separate from the selves we present to the world.
There are only two stories here, so the book is very short and small. The first story was interesting if a bit farcical, but the second was complex and funny and ultimately felt more real. There are some laugh-out-loud bits, and very plummy English throughout, and so a good read for those who love compound sentences and high vocabulary (me).
I can’t say that I’d recommend this, or give it as a gift (the title would be off-putting to all but the closest of friends, and even then). But for the quirky characters and the writing, I would say that I enjoyed it.
- A book of short stories.
- A book you can read in one day.
- A book with a one-word title.