Telling Tales [Alan Bennett]


Hello everybody! Firstly let me apologise for the lack of new material on Brewandbook recently – I’ve been on my jollies. I thought it sage to spend my time playing cards, looking super cool in my shades and drinking grapefruit rosé (oh my GOD is it delicious) instead of scribbling down grumpy thoughts about celebrities who think they can pop out a children’s book when their other sources of income start to dry up… although when the grey skies return you now know to expect a real treat!

One of many summer reading selections this year was ‘Telling Tales’ by Alan Bennett. If you’re familiar with Bennett, and au fait with the nuances of a Yorkshire accent if you’re not from England, you’ll know that it’s pretty much impossible to read anything of his without hearing him in your mind’s… ear. Is that a thing? Let’s go with it. The edition I picked up – a hardback produced by BBC Books – has rather small pages, rather large font, and a rather annoying habit of inserting a big old italicised quote somewhere on the same page that the line is taken from. Owing to the aforementioned size of the page and font, you get the feeling that your brain is echoing the words after you read them – but in the interest of fairness I mustn’t hold an editorial decision against the author. As with ‘The Naked Civil Servant‘, Bennett’s short-n-sweet memoir of a childhood in The North is endlessly quotable, my favourite, I think, being: ‘The risk, of course, of telling tales… particularly about a childhood in the north, is that you may end up writing an extended Hovis commercial.’

The risk, of course, of telling tales… particularly about a childhood in the north, is that you may end up writing an extended Hovis commercial

See what I did there?

His use of language, especially when infused with that expressive and campy Leeds accent, is sublime at times – take for example: ‘As a child I root in the dressing-table drawers or squeeze the scrotum of the scent spray, cased in its tight silk net.’ And while he makes no claims about having had the perfect upbringing – far from it, in fact – his teasing descriptions of his parents are funny and unfailingly affectionate; his dad’s wardrobe of My Suit and My Other Suit and his mum who calls Hush Puppies ‘push buttons’. I feel like I’m always harping on about Northern-ness on this blog, but in the case of ‘Telling Tales’ it really did enrich my reading of Bennett’s stories – for example walking on Morecambe sands is definitely a quintessential childhood experience of those who live in the Red or White Rose counties, and I’m not sure that simply filling in the mental-imagery blanks with your own local beaches would quite do the trick here. Google Images admittedly does portray a very average looking beach, but I swear I’ve never found another quite like it. Try putting those image results in greyscale and you’d be getting closer… But when place comes into play in any book it’s the same deal – just because I wasn’t in New York City in the twenties doesn’t mean I enjoyed The Great Gatsby any less –  and it certainly shouldn’t put you off reading what is simply a warm and charming treat of a book.

I’ve finished this and want something similar:

It’s hard to recommend just one of Bennett’s plays or novellas to you; Goodreads has ‘The Uncommon Reader’ rated highest and ‘Talking Heads’ really made his name, but I think I’ll have to plump for ‘The History Boys’. If the sun has melted your brain and you can’t face more reading just yet, then the film is an excellently-done thing and also comes highly recommended.

What do you think?

Can you help me out by suggesting other writers whose words can only be read in their voice? Or even an actor whose transcribed interviews you hear as though they’re being played on the radio? I find that to be such an interesting quirk of the brain; you’re reading sentences that you’ve never heard them say and yet you can construct a pretty perfect mental representation of how it all sounds based purely on the information you’ve learned about how they speak. And on that tangent…

Until next time! x





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