Jill's Reviews > Smut

Smut by Alan Bennett
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's review
Feb 02, 2012

really liked it
Read from February 01 to 02, 2012

According to the Urban Dictionary, smut translates to highly developed stories with love lines and other things that appeal to women, with a lot of sexually explicit scenes. By that definition, is Alan Bennett’s latest novel truly about smut?

The ambiguous answer: yes but not really. Smut really tackles the theme of how those of us, living within narrow boundaries of social convention, break free from conforming to appearances. The result is entertaining, amusingly quirky British humor at its best.

The first of the novellas is The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson, the story of a 50-something middle-class woman “beached on the shores of widowhood” who takes in a young medical student couple as a way of supplementing her pension. At the same time, she decides to make some money as a “part-time demonstrator” for the medical school; in essence, playing the part of a person with an illness so that the student doctors can refine their diagnostic skills. In lieu of rent, her young borders offer to let her view their nightly sexual escapades. And so she begins her thrilled Walter Mitty life: actor/pretender by day and voyeur by night.

The second, The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes (there is a certain symmetry in the titles), focuses on the priggish middle-aged woman who appears blind to the fact that her handsome and narcissistic son is gay. Graham – the son – soon marries a rather dowdy but highly intelligent woman named Betty for her money and begins to enjoy her company as well. What emerges is a parlor game of misadventures as Bennett explores the ramifications of the family secret…with everyone sleeping with everyone else.

So what is Alan Bennett – the fine author and playwright of The Uncommon Reader and The History Boys, among others – trying to accomplish? For one thing, in both novellas, he shows that appearances are not as they seem at first glance Mrs. Donaldson is hardly the repressed and conventional widow nor is Mrs. Forbes the unsuspecting mother. As the two eponymous women – and the characters close to them – strive to “perform” for all those around them, the performances are ultimately semi-comical and definitely false.

This slender and compulsively page-turning book offers plenty of the trademark pleasures that those familiar with Bennett’s oeuvre will readily detect. It’s filled with witty plot twists and turns of phrases and sometimes befuddled, often repressed characters that are also sympathetic. I can think of far worse ways to pass a few hours than in the company of such fascinating characters.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol Just got this in today...hope to read some of it soon. Let me know what you think.

Jill Just finished and I liked it. I will try to review soon.

message 3: by Carol (new)

Carol Great.

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