Keeping On Keeping On – Alan Bennett – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
I have to come clean from the start. I’m a big fan of Alan Bennett. I’ve enjoyed almost everything he’s written: plays, stories and diaries and it is always an added bonus to listen to these read by Bennett himself. Keeping On Keeping On is a collection of extracts from his latest diaries covering the period from 2005 to 2014, and along with his earlier reminiscences, Untold Stories and Writing Home, it is available from Audible with Bennett as narrator.
Best known to a modern audience for his plays (three of which have been filmed – The Madness of King George, The History Boys and more recently, The Lady in the Van – and many more televised), Bennett started his career as an actor/writer in the 1960s in the hugely successful, satirical stage revue, Beyond the Fringe. His work has always reflected contemporary preoccupations though his approach is often unconventional and far from predictable. In his play, An Englishman Abroad, about a British man, Guy Burgess, who spied for the Russians and its companion piece, A Question of Attribution, based on Keeper of the Queen’s Paintings, Anthony Blunt and his role in the Cambridge Spy Ring, he passes no judgement, and presents instead compassionate portraits of two men living in deep isolation – one in exile in Moscow, the other in the heart of the establishment in London.
In this present volume, Bennett talks again of these spies and, though not uncritical, he is far more forgiving of them than of Tony Blair or George W Bush, both of whom he excoriates for the destruction of Iraq. While he tells us that he has been described as “kindly, cosy and essentially harmless”, his analysis of the events unfolding around him over the last ten years is anything but mild or neutral. Though he writes of global events and international personalities, his focus is mainly on his own country and society. Apart from Blair, Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson too, get the sharp edge of his tongue, as does the educational system and certain aspects of policing in the UK.
However, these are not political diaries. Most of what Bennett writes about are his personal encounters and preoccupations. He talks of his partner, Rupert, and of their life together as well as telling us anecdotes about the rehearsal and staging of some of his plays. He jokes about his encroaching deafness and the embarrassing situations that has sometimes led to. He remembers places he has visited and overheard snatches of conversation that amused him.
This may not be a book that has you laughing out loud but it impossible to listen to it without frequent chuckles at the wit and tone of the reader. The book itself comes to 736 pages so what Audible has released here is just a selection of extracts from it but it is a joy to listen to and I can recommend it without reservation.
It is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 2h16