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Untold Stories by Alan Bennett

Untold Stories

by Alan Bennett

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Although not presented as such, Alan Bennett's Untold stories (2005) is very much, and should be seen as a companion volume to Writing home, which appeared in 1994.

Like Writing home, it is a book full of scraps and tid-bits that nobody in their serious mind should attempt to read, let alone buy. Supposedly, most of these 'occasional pieces' were once published or unpublished. Much of it is either very boring or of inimitably little interest. The Diaries, for examples, tell us nothing whatsoever, as with most other pieces.

Writing home consisted of 630+ pages, and Untold stories goes over that, forming a formidable tome of 658 pages, which, obviously, took me an incredibly long time to finish, and, again, I feel I wasted a lot of time reading it.

If may be that Alan Bennett is, or is considered an important author, but that does not seem to justify the publication of these two massive volumes of prose.

However, Untold stories seems a little bit better than the preceding volume. For instance, the first section, which bears the same title as the whole volume, namely Untold stories is a chronicle of the author's mothers illness. For years, as is usually the case in such patients, Bennett's mother suffered from Manic Depression. This is described very compassionately in this memoir, showing the tragedy of such prolonged depression for the mother, the father, and the author, who was a university student, at the time. This memoir also describes very accurately the dynamic between the parents, having a working class, lower educational background, and their son, who is trained at university, but above all the narrative shows how inadequate that university knowledge is in expressing affection and dealing with this situation. The memoir shows, actually, the father to be more apt and understanding and communicating feeling. As a result, the father and the son also grow closer.

Given the fact that in the Western world, Depression takes place on epidemic scale, it is remarkable that this type of memoir seems to be so rare. At 127 page, forming the first part of the book, Untold stories deserves to be read,and should be anthologized in other form.

Written on the body is an interesting personal memoir, but very short.

For the rest of the book, I would advise a hap-snap approach. The diaries (1996 - 2004) are largely very uninteresting, unless one is perhaps particularly interested in Alan Bennett, taking up almost 200 pages. About 100 pages are devoted to essays about plays written by Bennett, more about The lady in the van, that was already so extensively dealt with in Writing home. There are various essays on radio and TV, among others on contemporaries of Bennett such as Thora Hird and Lindsay Anderson, just in case these people would disappear into oblivion, as will probably happen anyway. The remaining essays on art, architecture and authors seemed promising, but are, by and large, rather uninteresting

I would advise anyone to take it from a library and read only those parts which have your particular interest, rather than attempt to swallow the whole book (and choke on it). ( )
  edwinbcn | Aug 13, 2014 |
I probably would've given this five stars had I been English, but many of the people mentioned and politics discussed were unfamiliar to me, which hindered my understanding a little.

Alan Bennett is a genius. I've thought this before, and still think so after reading this book. ( )
  LynleyS | Feb 8, 2014 |
This is a lovely book that kept me entertained on my commuter journeys for going on a month. It is a sprawling unweildly collection of Bennett's musings on life, Leeds, family, philosophy, art, history, homosexuality and mortality - some pieces date from the time that he was seriously ill with cancer (now in remission).

I know there are some who find Bennett irritating - and for sure he is repetitious. But I know of no-one who combines his intelligence and articulacy with so much clearly genuine modesty.

He writes so well in his fictions of the lost souls of life because he too has always been a little bit lost and uncomfortable despite his fame and success.

He seems never to have quite slotted in to either the lower middle class of his upbringing, the intellectual class of Oxford, or the self-regarding coterie of theatre and show-biz.. But he manages to write sympathetially about people from all walks of life. Like us all, he has his prejudices, but is about as open-minded as we have any right to expect.
  GeorgeBowling | Jan 1, 2013 |
Just too long to get going for me, I don't have the years left to waste on books that don't GET me straight away. No longer can I afford to give a book 50 pages. ( )
  Fliss88 | Aug 28, 2011 |
More than any writer publishing today, Alan Bennett’s work is recognised as a facet of the man himself. Spying my copy of 'Untold Stories' a colleague comments ‘Oh, you’re reading Alan Bennett’. This is representative of many things – his penchant for understated titles, the strength of his voice and written persona, but most probably, his heavy use of personal experience.

'Untold Stories' is a blend of autobiography, family memoir and writerly scrapbook, and it is in this book that Bennett explicitly references some of the murmurs and unknowns that have never really been consciously excluded from previous work, but have also never been aired publicly. In his comment about why he has never accepted an honour he admits, “I wish I could dispose of the question” and “I then generally edge [it] round to a discussion of honours in general.” Here he doesn’t. He faces the questions of his sexuality, family history and stance on the gay movement, all with a clarity, humour and humility that is facilitated by his belief that “none of it was likely to be published in my lifetime, so where was the problem?”

This frankness adds touching beauty to his accounts of the illnesses and deaths in his family, his teenage angst and his encounter with cancer. As this is Alan Bennett, of course, it’s all treated with a beguiling awkwardness and a Northen normality that is partly, one thinks, as much of a character as the A. Bennetts one and two in 'The Lady in the Van'.

The fragmented nature of the book means it seems almost to be intended to be read out of sync, but reading it front to back, one is irritated by the repetition of four or five Big Ideas that Bennett uses in memoir, diary, lecture and play. Although these are often funny and insightful on first reading, they really jar by the end of the book and could easily have been avoided by some more careful editing or selection. Similarly, to a regular reader of the 'London Review of Books', the large section of Bennett’s diary extracts may not be altogether fresh either, but are highly recommended if it’s the first time you’ve seen them.

I don’t think there’s any harm in skipping whole sections of this book if you’re so inclined. Not interested in the lectures, fine. Read the diaries already, fine. But the sections that are really, strongly recommended are the opening and closing memoirs ‘Untold Stories’ and ‘Ups and Downs’. For anyone fairly new to Bennett, or for any dyed in the wool Alan fans, read it front to back, and savour every minute of it. ( )
1 vote hattifattener | Dec 13, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0571228305, Hardcover)

"Untold Stories" is Alan Bennett's first collection of prose since "Writing Home" and takes in all his major writings over the last ten years. The title piece is a poignant family memoir with an account of the marriage of his parents, the lives and deaths of his aunts and the uncovering of a long-held family secret. Also included are his much celebrated diaries for the years 1996 to 2004, as well as essays, reviews, lectures and reminiscences ranging from childhood trips to the local cinema and a tour around Leeds Art Gallery to reflections on writing, honours and his Westminster Abbey eulogy for Thora Hird. At times heartrending and at others extremely funny, "Untold Stories" is a matchless and unforgettable anthology.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:00 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

'Untold Stories' is a collection of Alan Bennett's prose. The title piece is a poignant family memoir with an account of the marriage of his parents, the lives and deaths of his aunts and the uncovering of a long-held family secret. Also included are essays, reviews, lectures and reminiscences.… (more)

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