The winsome Alan Bennett

Alan BennettWhen the Independent on Sunday described him as “winsome”, he canceled an interview with the paper, sending a postcard with the joyous missive: “Winsome, lose some.”

However the other point that the article makes is that Alan Bennett’s work has always had a dark, deeply melancholic side. Quite right, however I think that the real genius of the man is that his plays and writings do not have subtexts as such: there’s none of this “you can enjoy them on one level or look deeper and see another meaning”. The brilliance is that it’s all there on one level. When you read his work you cannot fail to get both the beautifully observed sketches of people and the bitter, wincing despair that lies within.

Maybe that’s why even now some critics are still grudging in their respect for Alan Bennett: he leaves very little to be analysed and pored over by them. It’s all there and readily accessible.

My copy of his new book (Untold Stories) should arrive later this week. I read an extract from it in last week’s The Telegraph which must rate as one of the finest pieces of prose I’ve ever read. Simple language, simple structure yet achingly sad and touching. Read it – you’ll not regret it.

Forget all this “Alan Bennett is a national treasure” nonsense. There are many great writers. However it seems that if a writer is accessible to many he cannot, by definition, be great. Alan Bennett disproves this. Try him.

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