Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Lady in the Van - Alan Bennett

'I ask her if she would like a cup of coffee. 
'Well, I wouldn't want you to go to all that trouble. I'll just have half a cup.''
I was sat by the window reading this and
by the time I finished it, it was getting dark.


I read this since the previous tenant left it in my old flat and I thought it would be fitting for me to pass it forward - but of course I would do well to read it myself first. So I sat down by the window and read it in one sitting - it's only a hundred-ish pages with a reasonably big font. It also helped that it was a fun read.

So anyway, The Lady in the Van is a memoir by the author, Alan Bennett, of the 15 years an older lady lived in her van on his driveway. It's written in journal entries that the author had mentioned her in over these years, and I thought that worked brilliantly for this story. Kind of amazing how interestingly you can write about life if you just take note of things like this.

Mrs. Shepherd seems like an awful lot of work (see my chosen quote) and I don't think I'd ever be able to treat her with the casual kindness the author offers her. It's part of the message of the book however; she also offers him with insight and character that he would have never come across in life otherwise. He treats her like a human being, and in return she cares about him, in her own, incredibly eccentric way.

Eccentric is the exact way I would describe Mrs. Shepherd. Since I didn't bother to read the back cover before starting the book, I was at first very confused as to what I was even reading. It doesn't include any sort of a foreword, instead just plunging into a journal entry. And maybe the lack of a foreword does this book a service (it didn't feel like that at the time) since it adds to the authenticity of the story.

Go out to the world and make someone
happy, little friend!
Maybe I don't do this book justice either. It's difficult to explain, I noted yesterday, how you can write an enjoyable piece about such a fully weird subject matter, let alone when it's so heavily based on reality. It might seem easier or even preferable to have the strange van be a gateway to another dimension or the lady be a seller of strange curiosities and magical items. As always, reviewing a memoir feels a it strange, but my 4/5 comes more from the effort and inspiration to write something like this.

I left this book on the beach today for Bookcrossing - wish me luck that it'll actually be registered on the website! Potentially if it got picked up by a nice person, you could follow its adventures here!

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 37: A book by an author who has written more than 20 books! (Honestly, that's a pretty impressive feat. The reason this works so well is that it was written by an author, who thus was capable of taking note of all these little details and comprise a book like this. Naturally, it must have helped that as an established professional, his work would actually be noticed by others.)

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