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This month’s book, Telling Tales by Alan Bennett, does exactly what it says on the cover. Bennett, one of the country’s most highly acclaimed wordsmiths, tells ten autobiographical tales about his childhood in Leeds, which he describes as a provincial city which life generally tended to avoid.
In several of the tales Bennett details the causes of his frustration as a youth – he knew that his family was very ordinary (not working class, but certainly not middle class) yet at the same time different from others. His mother too assumed that life was very different for others and that the cocktail party lifestyle she read about in Woman’s Own was the norm. Bennett himself was certainly an unusual boy who at 14 prayed assiduously and took upon himself the nightly cleaning of his parents’ false teeth.
Throughout the book we see examples of what Bennett is a true master of – bringing a tear to the eye while at the same time making one laugh out loud at his flippant account of tragedy. At one point Dad collapses in the street and somehow struggles to a friend’s house, crying out for Lil, the use of Mam’s first name signifying the fear that he thought his time had come. Alan and his brother eventually arrive, ‘in our caps and gabardine raincoats, never other than neat, even in the presence of death’. There is talk of whether a doctor should be fetched, it is Sunday after all and the doctor would probably be on the golf course. Instead a local wise woman is called whose diagnosis is constipation. Although Dad is finally found to have a perforated ulcer he survives to feature in other stories.
Despite his youthful deprecation of his home town, Bennett’s deep affection for Leeds emerges clearly throughout the pages. It is the city that nurtured him and through the provision of free education, enabled him to become one of the best-loved writers of our time.
This is a book that all of us enjoyed and it gave rise to a very cheery evening.
At our next meeting on Thursday 15 January we will each be reading a poem of our choice.
Withiel Book Circle – reading list
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