Title: Untold Stories
Author: Alan Bennett
Page Count/Review Word Count: 658
This is another classic bedtime book for me, because despite being eminently readable, it’s still pretty heavy going. It’s just a beast of a book with pretty small print, and so if I’d tried to tackle it as my main read, I don’t think I would have stuck with it.
And you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you passed this one up, at least if you’re an Alan Bennett fan. That’s because there’s actually a lot of good stuff here, including some pretty interesting mini essays that take you behind the scenes of some of Bennett’s theatre productions or that go into the inspirations for various different stories that he’s worked on throughout the years.
Then there are the diary entries, which are surprisingly interesting considering I’ve never really been nosy enough to want to read someone else’s journals. I think it helps that they’re relatively recent diaries, and so when he’s reacting to world events, I can remember when a lot of them happened.
At the same time, though, this is pretty much the exact same book as Keeping On Keeping On, and that one was a bit of a challenge to read as well. It kind of feels as though Bennett is on a mission to publish literally everything that he’s ever written, and even though he’s a decent writer, that does get a bit dull after a while. I’d read Stephen King’s shopping lists, but I wouldn’t read Bennett’s. And yet in a way, that’s kind of what we get here.
I mean don’t get me wrong, it was still a decent enough read, it’s just a bit of a trek and it will take a ton of commitment. That’s particularly true when you get to the diaries, because even though they do tie in with major events and take you behind the scenes on some of his creative projects, you’re still just sitting there reading diary entries. It’s not quite as dull as reading a collection of letters, but it’s not far off either.
On the plus side, there was some interesting stuff on Bennett’s relationship with his mother, who suffered from some mental health conditions. He writes openly and honestly about what that was like for the family to deal with, and we also see him talking about things like electro-shock therapy and other mental health “best practices” that have since gone out of fashion. Interestingly, he wasn’t opposed to it, either.
Unfortunately for me, that’s about all I have to say about this one, and I need to pull another 200 words out of somewhere so that I can meet my goal of making sure that every review consists of the same number of words as the book has pages. But then, if Bennett can write 660 pages about nothing in particular then so can I, it just might not be as entertaining.
Because that’s the thing about this one. Even though it’s not like a gripping novel where the plot will make you want to keep reading page after page, there’s just something about Bennett’s writing that makes it enjoyable. It’s not going to be the kind of book that you can’t put down, but you will still want to stick at it and get to the end, even if it takes you a couple of months.
And there’s no shame in taking your time with it, because it’s that kind of read. You could even dip in and out of it if you wanted to, although I’d advise against it. The problem with doing that is that you’d never know when you finished, and there’d also be a risk that you’d find yourself re-reading something that you’d already read.
So there you have it, those are my thoughts on Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories. Make of that as you will.