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Untold Stories by Alan Bennett

Untold Stories (edition 2006)

by Alan Bennett

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8311510,880 (3.99)37
Title:Untold Stories
Authors:Alan Bennett
Info:Faber and Faber (2006), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 672 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:autobiography, read in 2012

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Untold Stories by Alan Bennett


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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 |
This is a beautifully written collection of prose pieces, some long, some short. Alan Bennett tells his own personal stories in a very self-effacing way but with great humour and insight. He comes across as a very honest and humane person. A must for all fans of The History Boys. ( )
  janglen | Oct 12, 2010 |

I don't know Alan Bennett's work all that well, but it doesn't really matter; these are memoirs of a shy English writer born in Leeds in the mid-1930s and looking back on his life from the years around the turn of the century. Bennett has become something of a national institution, though he would hate to be described as such, and writes here about why he turned down a knighthood in 1996 ('it didn't suit me').

The two most effective pieces in the book are the very long opening piece about his mother's mental illness and the rest of his extended family, particularly her sisters (one of whom died after wandering out of a mental hospital; Bennett himself found her body), and the rather shorter closing piece about his own, so far successful, battle with bowel cancer, a legacy of his father's side of the family. In between are long, amusing extracts from his diaries between 1996 and 2004, and various other pieces mostly about the arts in Britain and his own work which didn't appeal to me as much but are, as usual with Bennett, engaging and often bitterly funny. Recommended. ( )
  nwhyte | Apr 9, 2010 |
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At Christmas when I was a boy and hung my pillowcase at the end of the bed one of the presents I could generally count on was an annual.
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:47 -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)

(summary from another edition)

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