At just over 100 pages, despite its brevity, it is a witty and weighty multi-layered meditation on the pleasures of reading and an inside glimpse of the monarchy into the bargain. But not tabloid style. Bennett is a genius at weaving in observations of the subtleties of class and style. He also likes big words and is somewhat of a sesquipedalian. Cosy up to Merriam-Webster for this one folks! I loved the word opsimath: one who learns only late in life.
The novella’s main character is the Queen and, although she no doubt reads a lot, here she discovers how delightful it can be to read avidly, compulsively and voraciously from a wide variety of literature and novels. She is one who should be ‘entitled’, but those near her are worried and stumped about her seemingly subversive addiction and think she is suffering from dementia!
The sweet little story begins when the Queen is walking her Corgis and stumbles upon a ‘mobile library’ near the palace kitchens, ends up with a book in her hands, and accidentally drifts into reading. There is a hilarious scene at the beginning where she learns to read and wave at the same time while sitting in the coach being brought to the opening of parliament!
It would seem remiss if I took no umbrage at Bennett’s remarks about how he doesn’t consider Canada to be bookish, despite a cameo appearance by Alice Munro. Obviously he has never listened to CBC or tuned in to ‘Canada Reads’ since I would rank Canadians very high on the ‘avid reader’ scale. Is there even such a thing? Incidentally, the title plays with the word common. ‘Common reader’ being someone who reads for pleasure as opposed to a critic or scholar, and a ‘commoner’ in England referring to anyone who is not nobility or royalty.
Bennett’s portrayal of the Queen does her justice and suggests she is intelligent, philosophical, and cares about things. She is an amazing woman and I have a great deal of respect for her. Since the Queen lives next door I’ve included a picture I took of her at Windsor Castle. How very common of me! 🙂