Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Smut, Stories by Alan Bennett

Smut
Stories by Alan Bennett
Picador
2012 
Received via NetGalley 

When I revealed on Facebook that I was reading a book called Smut (along with Ben Mezrich's Sex on the Moon, which has since gone back to the library unread), I think some of my new friends (and some that knew me back in my high school days) might have gotten the wrong impression of me.

And if you were operating under the assumption that Smut is a trashy tome, well, you would be mistaken, too.

Before getting into a discussion on Alan Bennett's book, which is all of two short stories ("The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson" and "The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes"), let us review the definition of the word itself, with some help from our friends at dictionary.com:
smut [smuht]
noun
1. a particle of soot; sooty matter.
2. a black or dirty mark; smudge.
3. indecent language or publications; obscenity.
4. Plant Pathology .
a. a disease of plants, especially cereal grasses, characterized by the conversion of affected parts into black, powdery masses of spores, caused by fungi of the order Ustilaginales.
b. a fungus causing this disease.
verb (used with object)
5. to soil or smudge.
So, yes, there is a bit of #3 (indecent language and obscenity) and eye-brow raising scenes in Smut. Bennett's use of such isn't gratuitous; rather, it is to illustrate the point that we all have aspects of our personalities that we keep hidden from others and even (sometimes especially) ourselves. Sometimes the people who think they know us best are the ones who know us least of all.

Of the two stories, "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson" (the first) was my favorite - simply because it seemed to be more original in its premise than the second. A recently widow, Mrs. Donaldson spends her days at the local teaching hospital, where she is employed as an actress portraying a "patient" or a family member of a sick person. She works with medical students and their instructor, and their role-playing serves as a means for  the students to gain insight and compassionate on how to care and treat those who are sick and bereaved. Mrs. Donaldson is a pretty good actress (almost too good at times) and enjoys being around the students - so much so that she takes in two of them as "lodgers" in her home.  When they're short on rent, the lodgers and Mrs. Donaldson come to an ... alternative agreement.

"The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes" was a much funnier story than "Mrs. Donaldson" (the opening dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Forbes is hysterical).  Again, this is a story about relationships and what we chose to reveal to others and to ourselves and what we keep hidden.  Graham Forbes son is getting married, and his mother (who has placed her son on a pedestal) thinks he can do much better than Tracy. Little does she know, there's much more to Tracy than there appears - as well as with her precious, perfect Graham (and her own husband).  

Smut marks the first time I've read Alan Bennett, and when I saw this offered on NetGalley for review, I wanted to try it because he was an author I'd heard much about, mainly due to An Uncommon Reader. I also love short stories and I especially love trying new authors in the short story format, which made this appealing.  While I was confused at the beginning of "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson" (it took me a few pages to understand that Mrs. Donaldson was an actress), Bennett did grab my attention immediately and held onto it throughout each story.  (The British humor and language also threw me for a loop, but that's due to my own quirks and issues with British humor; I don't always have a good sense of it, much to The Husband's deep dismay.)

Overall, this was an enjoyable, quick read and one that has made me curious to read more of Alan Bennett in the future.





What Other Bloggers Thought:

Savidge Reads

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

No comments: