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Smut by Alan Bennett
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Jan 01, 12

Read in December, 2011

I'm going to start this review by stating that I am a big Alan Bennett fan (The Uncommon Reader is amongst my favourite books), so I had high expectations for this collection of two new novellas and jumped at the chance to read and review them via NetGalley. Smut contains the stories "The Greening of Mrs Donaldson" and "The Shielding of Mrs Forbes" and both are about the secrets behind the net curtains of middle-class England.

The Greening of Mrs Donaldson is about a widower who takes on a job as a 'demonstrator' at the local hospital, which involves her pretending to have various illnesses so that medical students can practise their diagnostic skills. She also rents out a room in her house to students and this signals a kind of sexual awakening/liberation. The Shielding of Mrs Forbes, the novella I preferred, is about a middle class, middle aged woman who believes that everything in her family is normal, despite having a gay married son who is being harassed by a police officer and a daughter in law that's having a secret affair with her husband, and who isn't as stupid as Mrs Forbes believes.

Smut was a big disappointment for me. While there were elements of satire and humour in both novellas, Bennett's writing felt flat, not razor sharp like it usually does. Neither story really hooked me in and whilst I could take a stab at inferring all of the themes that Alan Bennett was covering in the novellas, this lack of an interesting and engaging story was too big of a flaw for me to get past. The things that happened in the stories seemed random, especially in The Greening of Mrs Donaldson. I probably wouldn't be as harsh in my review if not for that fact that I really am an Alan Bennett fan, and have read much better from him. I would advise readers new to Bennett to start somewhere else.
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