I was in the library request queue for weeks till I finally got my eyes on Alan Bennett’s newish book SMUT. The volume is comprised of two long short stories about sexual secrets and the flexibility of desire.
Alan Bennett is widely considered a pre-eminent British dramatist, best known for his stage plays (History Boys, The Madness of George III, The Wind in the Willows, etc) and his screenplays (Prick up Your Ears, The Madness of King George, etc).
But I fell for him when I read his only novel The Uncommon Reader, an irresistible tale about the democracy and aristocracy of a book-mobile. I just adored that very literary book with its wit and brevity.
SMUT’s two stories are very naughty – both about the underestimation of the capacity of desire, or in other words, about the fluidity of sexual identity. Bennett’s characters may never learn about the self-deception involved with misleading others, but his readers sure do get the message.
There is something about the complex role of work in an older woman’s life in “The Greening of Mrs Donaldson” that makes sense from a writer who is himself the son of a butcher. Mrs Donaldson works as a practice patient for medical students – a job that combines symptom research with acting. She also develops an unexpected if entertaining connection with her young lodgers.
And Bennett’s own bi-sexuality probably informs the comedy of infidelity that keeps “The Shielding of Mrs Forbes” rollicking along. An arrogant dashing young man marries a woman who is obviously much less attractive than himself in the hopes that the “gratitude factor” will give him more freedoms than he can rightly expect.
Today I’ve ordered the CD audio book of Untold Stories, which Bennett began when diagnosed a half-dozen years ago with a deadly cancer that has since gone into remission. I see without surprise that there are several holds ahead of mine on the library website.