Alan Bennett Defies Expectations With 'Smut' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Alan Bennett Defies Expectations With 'Smut'

Play associated audio

Alan Bennett, author of The History Boys and The Madness of King George, among countless other books, plays and memoirs, is a grand old man of British letters.

"I'm getting on now, and I'm thought of in England as being rather cozy and genteel — certainly in the stories that I write," he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

So Bennett decided to give his readers a little rattle with a new book of two short stories called Smut.

The British matrons at the center of Smut are Mrs. Donaldson and Mrs. Forbes. Bennett says he was able to get into the mind of a middle-aged woman because his aunts talked endlessly when he was a child.

"It lays down a kind of seam, really, in the mind which I found when I started to write that I could draw on," he says. "I could remember how they spoke and the kind of things that they said. So one mined it and I've been able to mine it for most of my writing life."

The two characters appear to be respectable, but they have what Bennett describes as "rich and alarming" secret lives and diverge from the middle-aged path.

"If a character is all that you see, it's rather boring," Bennett says.

The characters are involved in an intricate dance of secrets and expectations, particularly Mrs. Donaldson, who runs up against her prudish daughter's ideas of proper behavior for a widow.

Bennett says he delights in subverting expectations.

"I think you have an inclination to outflank your readers, to do something that they aren't expecting you to do," Bennett says. "I think that's one of the motives for writing these two stories. They aren't quite what people expect of me."

Bennett says he's always been fascinated by people who want to break out, particularly late in life. And that includes him.

"One or two people have said you can see I am loosening up," he says. "Maybe that's what happens to old men. Maybe they all become, you know, dirty old men."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

How Scientists Created A Typhus Vaccine In A 'Fantastic Laboratory'

Arthur Allen's new book, The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl, describes how a WWII scientist in Poland smuggled the typhus vaccine to Jews — while his team made a weakened version for the Nazis.
NPR

Glass Or No Glass? That Is The Grill Lid Question

Would you be a better cook if you could see your food on the grill without lifting the lid? We take a peek under the hood of an innovative glass-top grill that claims to help prevent the dreaded burn.
NPR

VA Nominee Steps Before Senate Committee

Robert McDonald, President Obama's nominee to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, is appearing before the Senate for his confirmation hearing. He faces the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
NPR

9/11 Commission Issues An Update On Anniversary Of Report

Saying that the world has changed "dramatically," the report's authors write that al-Qaida groups have spread, and the threat for cyberterrorism has grown.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.