Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/customer/www/mccallumsmith.com/public_html/wp-content/plugins/microkids-related-posts/microkids-related-posts.php on line 645

Smut: Stories by Alan Bennett

February 22, 2012 | No Comments

How many short stories does it take to make a collection (or change a light-bulb)? I suspect it’s more than two, but since the author is the incandescent Alan Bennett, I’ll let him away with it. I’ll also let him away with titling his skinny offering Smut, a grubby little adjective ironically chosen to describe our relationship to sex (too often oscillating between lust and shame), because it fails to dirty these bright and empathetic tales of hanky-panky. Bennett’s previous book, The Uncommon Reader, was another mere slip of a thing and just as delectable. I suspect he’s realized that if he’s ever strapped for ready cash – to replace a knackered boiler or buy a flashy Hotpoint – he needn’t grind out a door-stopper.
So are “The Greening of Mrs Donaldson” and “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes” smutty? Well, yes, in one way, they are, given that their plots hinge on that most elemental of human transactions, which is, let’s face it, often ridiculous to consider in the abstract, but Bennett’s intent is not to titillate, but to reflect, gently, on the universal human comedy, and, in particular, on how rarely our youth-obsessed society considers the sensual desires of those whose powers of attraction are on the wane. The newly-widowed Mrs. Donaldson offers her body, and her considerable thespian skills, to help a medical school, while renting out a spare room to some of its students, whom, in lieu of rent, pay her in an alternative “tumultuous currency” rounded off with a nice cup of tea. Meanwhile, the apparently conservative and shockable Mrs. Forbes, needs shielding from complicated liaisons formed by her family, driven by vanity, money, desire, and pragmatism. So smitten is she by her son’s perfection that she interprets his preference for male company, his decision to “shop elsewhere,” as a perfectly understandable response to his failure to find a woman of his quality. “Carried to its logical conclusion, of course,” Bennett writes, “this free-market theory of sexual preference is hardly tenable as it would see the ranks of deviance swollen by droves of disappointed normality. Not that Mrs. Forbes cares about that, her thoughts for the moment busy with a more immediate breach of suburban rectitude.” Managing the messy business of the bedroom as the years go by, Bennett suggests, requires tenderness, affection, and the willingness to turn a blind eye.
Bennett’s stories feel so effortless, so all-of-a-piece, so off-the-cuff, you know they are anything but. After scarfing this meagre but tasty repast, Bennett fans will be left twiddling their thumbs in the dark, like a tormented Lothario panting after a glimpse of M’Lady’s ankle. We can only hope his dish-washer springs a leak quite soon… if only so that I start reading and stop writing blogs blighted by so many mixed metaphors…

Comments are closed.