Tag Archives: Alan Bennett

Fox 8 by George Saunders. Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal

Fox 8 by George Saunders Title: Fox 8
Author: George Saunders
Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1526606488
Genre: Satire, Fiction, Fable for Adults
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There are some books that just nestle into your heart and stay there. For me, those have been the likes of An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Capote, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. You get the drift, don’t you? These are the kind of books that can be read to soothe me, when I am feeling down. I am certain we all have these kind of books – the ones that make everything alright, just by opening them and reading – over and over again. Fox 8 by George Saunders is the latest addition to my ever-growing list of “heartwarming” books. (I hate the use of the word heartwarming, my apologies).

I love Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo though is my least favourite book written by him, though it won the Man Booker Prize and all that). His short fiction is par excellence, his essays even better in my opinion, and basically whatever he writes is pure gold. Fox 8 is no less of a book because of its size. If anything, after you are done reading it, you tend to agree that it had to end, where it did, even if you wanted more of it.

Fox 8 - Image 1

Read more: In Appreciation of George Saunders

This 64-page novella/novelette is about a fox – the name is Fox 8 who is curious about humans (poor sad fox. I for one can’t stand most humans) and also learns some of the English language, by watching parents read to their children (I love how the fox also debunks fairy tales for us with reference to the role of the fox in them). Saunders is in his full form with inventiveness of language – writing (phonetically) the way a fox would – yooman and not human, bare and not bear, and the list goes on. At first, you wonder about the writing style and when you give in, you are in love with this fantastical tale of two foxes visiting a mall (that has been built razing most of their forest) and what happens next.

Fox 8 - Image 2Read more: George Saunders’s 10 Favourite Books

Before I forget, kudos and more to Chelsea Cardinal for the illustrations that go so well with the story. The illustrations are all black and white, except the foxes – they are in orange and stunning would perhaps be a lesser adjective to use. Saunders’ story is telling of our times – of the way we inhabit spaces and make of them to how endangered our wild life really is – and all of this is said with the eccentric and almost witty (in this one at least), true blue Saunders style.

Fox 8 is heartwarming, also heart-wrenching, makes you look at the world we have made and why and question almost every decision – which I think we must. At the same time, it makes a spot in your heart and will not go away. I am very happy that it was the first read of the year for me. Read it. It is truly beautifully done.

You can buy Fox 8 by George Saunders here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett Title: The Uncommon Reader
Author: Alan Bennett
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-0312427641
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I do not know why I had not read this book in a long time. It was there next to me, all the time and I did not pick it up. I guess the time wasn’t right. Books have to choose you and only then can you read them. It doesn’t matter what kind of reader you are – common or uncommon, the book chooses you. And with this thought I now pen my thoughts on the magnificent little gem titled, “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett.

The ‘uncommon’ reader in question in the book is none other than Queen Elizabeth II, who takes a fascination to reading and books. She chances upon a mobile library at the back of her castle by chance and as all things go by chance, she starts devouring books and loves them for what they are. At the beginning of the book we see her making acquaintanceship with Norman Seakins, a young man who works in the royal kitchen. She moves him from there and makes him her personal reading guide. The Queen forgets her day-to-day duties and activities under the influence of the ‘book’ or many ‘books’. She is delayed in opening the Parliament and converses less with people (unless the conversation is steered toward reading) and this leads to dire consequences being taken by the Prime Minister and her private secretary.

Alan Bennett conjures a world of reading and writing and how is it accessible to everyone. He explores the effects of reading and writing on our lives through a warm and sometimes funny novella. I had to finish this book in one setting, considering it was a short read – around one hundred and twenty odd pages and yet every page brims with reading wisdom and anecdotes from The Queen. For instance, her tea session with authors is hilarious and also the times she ponders about how she did not get to meet certain writers she would have liked to and now cannot as they are dead.

For such a slim volume, Alan Bennett puts in a lot of ideas and themes – how reading can change you, how it can make others uncomfortable – especially the ones who don’t read and how it can lead to writing and explore oneself and other worlds. The idea that the Queen’s reading would make the rest of Britain read is a wonderful thought – another theme that comes across in the book.

“The Uncommon Reader” was a pleasant read for me. I loved the book a lot. In fact, it has to be one of the best reads for me this year. I will definitely reread it. For the beauty of books and reading and but obviously for the reader.

Book Review: Smut: Stories by Alan Bennett

Title: Smut: Stories
Author: Alan Bennett
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1250003164
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 152
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I must admit that while I had known of Alan Bennett (and owned a copy of, “The Uncommon Reader); I hadn’t read anything by him prior to reading, “Smut”, a collection of two short stories. The stories are definitely a tease, but not smutty at all, as the title claims them to be, at least not in this time and age.

Smut consists of two stories, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” and, “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes”. Both are centered on one theme: Being smutty and being candid, or the lack of it sometimes. Smut, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes tries too hard to scandalize but it cannot, not the modern reader, who I would assume has read about these themes earlier.

The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson centers on a 55-year old widow, trying to make a living of being a “part-time demonstrator” for the medical school – in essence, playing the part of a person with an illness, so the students can correctly diagnose. At the same time she is taken in by a couple from the medical school, who are her lodgers and watches them have sex in exchange of rent. Initially I did take some time to get used to the twist the story took, however it wasn’t that embarrassing. The story however does end on a very surprising note and makes the reader think, just that little bit.

The second story, “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes” is about an over-possessive mother, her recently married son and her henpecked husband. The story unfolds when a well-kept secret of the son, Graham is about to be exposed. Again, being gay in the story is hardly smutty. It is the way of life. Having said that, it is still Bennett’s writing that takes you by the horns and makes you read what he has written.

Alan Bennett has the verve in his writing. The candour and the beauty of words hit straight through without any intensity or depth. The simplicity of his words, take the reader to the edge and then he reveals the twist in the tale quite nonchalantly. Bennett’s writing has to be experienced. The writing is sharp and makes no bones about the fact that the British like to have sex and indulge. The decadence is at the highest level and does not beat around the bush as well. I will read more by him for sure.

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