A Life Like Other People's by Alan Bennett

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A Life Like Other People's by Alan Bennett

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The core work of Untold Stories has been reprinted along with many of the photos. If you don't have that book this is a delight - if you do it's an extravagance you might regret. The front cover clearly shows that it's from the earlier book - just don't overlook it!
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Faber and Faber/Profile
ISBN: 978-0571248124

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It was his mother's illness which triggered Alan Bennett's excursions into his family background. The bout of depression hadn't cleared as the family had hoped and admission to hospital was the next step in her treatment. Asked if there had been anything like this before, Bennett said not, failing to notice his father's hand gently touch his knee. The son was educated at Oxford and had even been seen on the television. He did the talking rather than the father, a reluctant butcher and a man not given to putting himself forward.

But there had been something like this before. It's only after the discussion with the doctor that Bennett senior tells the story of his wedding to the bride who really couldn't cope with the idea of any fuss at all, whilst he could only get fifteen minutes off work. The mystery of why the Bennetts – unique amongst their generation – failed to display a wedding photograph was now explained. It didn't stop there though. Family folklore had it that grandfather had dropped dead in the kitchen – the spot was pointed to and the story repeated until it – almost – became established fact. The truth was though that he'd committed suicide in the canal.

Alan Bennett's mother was severely depressed and he tells of the effect that it had on her, on his father and on the family as a whole. It's quite possible that the effort of looking after Mam and driving to visit her in various hospitals killed his father. He's brutally honest about the care she received and how his feelings about his mother changed. He's more open than he's been before in talking about his family and he's less perfect but more human and likeable because of it.

A bonus for me was that I know many of the places in the book well. Whether it's Leeds in the post-war period or the Yorkshire Dales at a later time it would be difficult to find words which better evoke those places, from the mucky Leeds which his parents longed to leave to the unhearselike scoot across the bypass to the cemetery in the village where his parents spent their retirement years.

The book is, of course, a delight. Alan Bennett never produces anything less. The writing is superb – appearing effortless and with never a wasted word. The observations are acute but always kindly and whilst we might laugh it will never be done in malice. And just occasionally we will chuckle with our author at himself. I've read the book before and I don't doubt that I shall read it again, but even on a second reading it was still fresh and enjoyable.

There is, though, a drawback. You can look along your shelves and nowhere will you see A Life Like Other People's, but you may well have bought and enjoyed Untold Stories. This book is the core work in that book, under the title Untold Stories and it has simply been reprinted along with many of the photos from the original book. Even footnotes have been slightly amended to serve the purpose – in one case referring the reader to the wrong book.

The book is highly recommended to buy if you don't have a copy of Untold Stories. If you do it's something of an extravagance.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more on the subject of depression you might appreciate The Sunlight on the Garden: A Family in Love, War and Madness by Elizabeth Speller or Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton. For a similarly brief personal memoir we can recommend Toast: the Story of a Boy's Hunger by Nigel Slater.

Buy A Life Like Other People's by Alan Bennett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Life Like Other People's by Alan Bennett at Amazon.co.uk


Buy A Life Like Other People's by Alan Bennett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Life Like Other People's by Alan Bennett at Amazon.com.

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