Today’s book review of a novella is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.
The Lady in the Van (audiobook) by Alan Bennett
Synopsis: Alan Bennett is the author of Writing Home, The Madness of George III, Talking Heads, The Clothes They Stood Up In and much else besides. Miss Shepherd lived in a Robin Reliant opposite Bennett’s house in Camden Town. After a series of attacks on her van, he suggested she move, with her van, to his front drive. Initially reluctant, she agreed – and Bennett landed himself a tenancy that went on for fifteen years. The Lady in the Van is probably Alan Bennett’s best-known work of non-fiction, and follows his other little blockbuster The Clothes They Stood Up In.
This book is available via http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Lady-In-Van/dp/1861971222 and http://www.amazon.com/The-Lady-In-Van/dp/1861971222.
Review (of the audiobook)
I found this CD at a charity shop (probably the one I volunteer at) and love Alan Bennett’s work (especially ‘The Uncommon Reader’) so looked forward to listening to it. I’d done so (and enjoyed it) before now but (my brain = sieve) it’s been long enough to remember the gist of it but not enough detail to spoil a second listening.
Based back when London semi-detached houses could be bought for £11,500 and Margaret Thatcher was in power, the audiobook being narrated by the author himself and ‘the lady’ is Maggie Smith. Alan has conversations with the lady (who goes by two names: Miss Mary Shepherd and Margaret, real surname unknown), his mother (whose voice I recognise) and himself (the other Alan is brilliantly narrated by Adrian Scarborough, and sounds exactly like him).
Alan meets Miss Shepherd when he’s admiring a local convent’s architecture and ‘the lady’ is attempting to sell religious leaflets and pencils. Her van has conked out and wants a push. His good deed starts a 20-year ‘friendship’ during which she complains about his playing of classical music and pretty much everything else that he – and everyone around them – does.
This novella is packed with wonderful quips, e.g. she’s touching up her van’s bodywork with gloss, and when Alan said it should be car enamel, she replies that she’s an expert, having won a prize for painting in primary school.
This story is apparently based on a true story… but is it?
There are some cringe-worthy points (various smells) but they often add to the erm… atmosphere. The script is so well-written, the only annoyance is the occasional (purposefully badly-played, I hope) piano interlude, and the mention of ‘no garden’ when he moves into his house but then Miss Shepherd moving into the ‘small garden’ later so for those issues only, it loses a point.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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If you would like to send me a book review of another author’s books or like your book reviewed (short stories, contemporary crime / women’s novels or writing guides), see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. And I post writing exercises every weekday on four online writing groups.