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Smut: Stories Paperback – Deckle Edge, January 3, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Artfully entertaining…On one particular subject Bennett is incomparably brilliant: role-playing, which is the meat of both stories." —Simon Schama, Financial Times (London)

"Bennett’s humor consistently resides in the logic of the parenthetical aside, the comedy of the false appearances or misperceptions being challenged or disabused.…Mrs. Donaldson is not as unconventional as she thought herself, and no one around Mr. Forbes is where—or who—they pretend to be." —The Guardian (London)

"Tender and comic…This is Bennett’s world, where repression is never far from the sexual act….Good, old-fashioned British humor with the lightest of subversive twists."—The Independent (London)

About the Author

Alan Bennett has been one of England’s leading dramatists since the success of Beyond the Fringe. The History Boys won six Tony Awards; his most recent play is The Habit of Art.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Original edition (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781250003164
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250003164
  • ASIN: 1250003164
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 0.5 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #431,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Alan Bennett is a renowned playwright and essayist, a succession of whose plays have been staged at the Royal National Theatre and whose screenplay for The Madness of King George was nominated for an Academy Award. He made his first stage appearance with Beyond the Fringe and his latest play was The Lady in the Van with Maggie Smith. Episodes from his award-winning Talking Heads series have been shown on PBS. His first novel, The Clothes They Stood Up In, was published in 2000. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Marquette on September 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Alan Bennett has made a career of making the observation of transgressive behavior feel like looking through a keyhole into another room at people we know we shouldn't be watching. In "Smut: Two Unseemly Stories", he teases the characters into life slowly, deliberately, and in a way making them irresistible. How do they tick? What motivates them? He provides just enough to want us to know more at every page. At the end of the two stories (and I liked the first far more than the second), we see how people make compromises with their lives simply to get on with them.

In "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson", we peep at a middle-class lady whose changed circumstances perplex her, yet she goes on with keeping calm and carrying on. In the same way, it's not the title character in "The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes" to whom we pay the most attention. Yet we leave the story wondering whether she's more a victim or the ultimate victor.

Bennett revels in relative morality. Nobody is entirely "right" or "wrong". They are, however, all able to adapt to changing circumstance, making them human, believable, and not necessarily likable. While I might forget Mrs. Forbes, who does what she has to do, Mrs. Donaldson's greening - blooming? - I won't soon forget.

It was worth the postal surcharge to get this title from the UK rather than wait until January 2012 for a US release.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Charles S. Houser on January 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anyone who has seen and enjoyed Bennett's TALKING HEADS single-character plays will likely enjoy the two stories that comprise SMUT. Leave it to Sophocles and Aeschylus to expose the tragic flaws of the world's elite, if you want to ponder the little things that undo the world's other ninety-nine percent then turn to ever observant and impish Alan Bennett. As he did in the Talking Heads plays BED AMONG THE LENTILS and MISS FROZZARD FINDS HER FEET, Bennett shows in these two new stories how the middle class drive for respectability and secrecy is responsible for that class's social imprisonment and isolation. Often in Bennett it seems that compromise, and the middle class instinct to seek out an accecptable one, is the only way out of any predicament.

Bennett's protagonists often find themselves trapped in unbalanced, oppressive relationships. In THE GREENING OF MRS DONALDSON, the first story in SMUT, the widower Mrs Donaldson's tormentor is her adult daughter who frowns on her mother's participation in medical students' training by enacting various ailments, and even more adamantly objects to her mother's taking in of lodgers. That both experiences lead Mrs Donaldson to belatedly discover her sexuality, and more importantly her autonomy, is a secret she must keep from her narrow-minded daughter and her "respectable" friends.

I found the second story, THE SHIELDING OF MRS FORBES, even more delightful. Graham Forbes is a handsome, vain homosexual and the apple of his mother's eye. His decision to marry the plain (physically unattractive) Betty prompts a cascade of catty remarks from Forbes mere. (I can see her being played in the movie by Jessica Walter of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David R. Anderson on February 14, 2012
Format: Paperback
Titillating, yes. Ever so. Smutty? No. That's just the publisher twisting the term to jack up the sales. Which is fine. This book at $14.00 ($10.99 on Amazon) is a far better buy than, say, two matinee tickets to "The Descendants" and you don't have to sit through ten minutes of bombastic previews to get to the text. Or, if you want a literary comparison, lots more fun and ever so much more clever than Nicholson Baker's "House of Holes" which is raunch (smut to the 2nd power) and boring. (See my review posted here on August 19, 2011)).

Let's face it, the Brits enjoy sex, take the joy as a given, want to spread it around, and have learned that talking about it is best done tongue in cheek (no pun intended). And when it comes to writing about it, Bennett does it so well that, man or woman, you'll want to crawl into bed with him just to hear what he'll have to say about it afterward. Okay, I'm stretching the point.

The first of the two stories in "Smut", probably has the better lines, but that's a close call, too. As you know if you've read my friend Mike Peterson's recent review of "Smut", Mrs. Donaldson, 55 and widowed, the protagonist in "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson", is offered the chance to watch her young lodgers, Andy and Laura, make love, in exchange for the arrears in their rent. Andy, who disrobes first, explains to his observant landlady, "I have to wait until the dog sees the rabbit" to get up and running. Laura appears, sans bra, sans pantalon, summoning the dog and the hunt is on. Mrs. Donaldson is nothing if not an appreciative audience and so, dear reader, will you be.

The second story, "The Shielding of Mrs.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 4, 2012
Format: Paperback
Dry British humor enlivens the two stories/novellas in Smut, a book that, despite its promising title, has little to do with smut. Its mildly salacious content is more funny than smutty -- which, I suppose, makes the title amusing in light of the book's content. In any event, the two stories are charming, wise, a little silly, and very funny, at least for fans of dry British humor.

The newly widowed Mrs. Donaldson takes a job as a "simulated patient," feigning illness so she can be examined by medical students, a profession Alan Bennett milks for its tremendous comedic potential. To make ends meet, Mrs. Donaldson takes on a medical student and her boyfriend as boarders. When they fall short of funds for their rent, they propose to provide Mrs. Donaldson with a voyeuristic thrill in lieu of payment. The typical British reserve with which Mrs. Donaldson greets the performance is hilarious, yet there's a serious note here: what does it take to give an aging widow a sense of freedom, of life renewed? For all its humor, "The Greening of Mrs Donaldson" has moments of sweet sadness as Alan Bennett puts the reader inside Mrs. Donaldson's lonely mind. But don't worry too much about Mrs. Donaldson: the unexpected ending is both hopeful and laugh-out-loud funny. (5 stars)

The other story is more about narcissism than voyeurism; Graham likes to look at himself rather than others. Graham and Betty are mismatched, at least in the opinion of Graham's doting mother. Graham is handsome and dashing; Betty is plain. But what Graham knows (and his mother doesn't) is that Betty has inherited a large sum of money. This, in Betty's opinion, entitles her to marry someone out of her league, someone like Graham.
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