I don’t usually reveal anything about “My best of ..” until 31.12 of said year because I’m always aware that the final books of the year may be among the best. It has turned out that the book I was reading (well, actually listening to) last week is right up there and in contention for my book of the year …
It may also be a bit of a cheat because said stories were originally written for television … 12 monologues by a cast of characters who reveal more by what they don’t say than what they do – and because I love reading between the lines, I rate the skill in writing that way very highly indeed.
I am, of course, talking about Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads” – monologues written by a national treasure, performed by a variety of national treasures: Julie Walters, Maggie Smith (love her!), Patricia Routledge, Thora Hird and Alan Bennett himself (amongst others).
The premise of each and every one of the stories – each about 30 minutes long – is different but the themes have much in common: isolation, guilt, loneliness, desperation. The voice is all and Bennett’s prose acted by the best of British is as powerful as you can get. Real life in all its tragedy, melancholy, comedy is portrayed here whether it be the fall into alchoholism of an English vicar’s wife, the delusions of grandeur of a porn-movie starlet, or the choice of an old lady, injured in a fall, to die alone rather than be admitted to a “care home”.
I won’t précis the stories here – no point duplicating the fine work of the wikipedist.
Neither can I quote – I was listening as I was driving to and fro – so couldn’t attach post-it notes to my favourite parts of the text. Which is just as well as I would have attached thousands. Such psychological astuteness and intensity and verisimilitude is rarely encountered. I can hear the stoic northerness of my mother (who died some 20 years ago) and of my now ageing friends. I can hear myself in future years (and I want to rail against that but no, such bitternesses may well come to pass …)
Neither do I consider it a cheat to include this in my top reads of 2011. The stories are now available in book form and the text is now apparently included in GCSE and A-level English literature syllabus.