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

4.0 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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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: 4.5 x 0.5 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,152,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is a modest book, small in size, beautifully printed on deckle-edge paper, with an almost-plain blue-grey cover. Then you notice that what seems to be a random design is actually a visual kama sutra of the possible positions in which two china teacups can engage in congress. "Smut" is used in Britain for salacious language -- not the hard stuff, but the dirty talk of young teens; in the hands of a septuagenarian master, the two longish stories that make up this book are deliciously risqué. In one, "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson," a widow's life is transformed when her two young lodgers offer her the opportunity of watching their love-making. In the other, "The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes," the marriage of a mother's boy to a somewhat plain bride, sets off a chain of sexual complications in which many of the boundaries of age, gender, and fidelity are broken down. This is the funnier of the two stories, as Bennett gleefully demolishes notions of middle-class propriety, and shows what really goes on inside a marriage. Not in terms of the sex, but as a question of who wields the power and how, and -- though it seems almost obscene to talk of happiness in the context of a sex romp -- what really holds couples together.

Many of the same qualities occur in "Mrs. Donaldson," but this story, the longer of the two, contains a great deal more. It shows Alan Bennett's extraordinary insight into the art of acting; starting off as an actor himself in BEYOND THE FRINGE, he has made his subsequent career as one of Britain's most distinguished playwrights, most notably in
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Yes, the two novellas/short stories of this volume are risqué and they would have made my mother uncomfortable, but smutty? Not really. So don't be put off by the title - this is not Nicholson Baker territory. SMUT actually is about people playing roles and keeping secrets from one another, though in each of the stories the biggest secrets do happen to involve sexual activity. But the sex itself is handled in a sufficiently oblique or adroit manner that the book never flirts with the pornographic.

In the first piece, Mrs. Donaldson is a fifty-five-year-old widow who needs some extra income. So she takes a job at a local medical school as a "Simulated Patient", acting out various complaints and conditions in mock consultations that are part of the medical school curriculum. She also takes in as lodgers a young couple, one of whom is a student at the medical school. When the lodgers fall behind in the rent, in lieu of money they invite Mrs. Donaldson to watch an evening of intercourse. The ramifications of that experience keep rippling through her life in new and wholly unexpected ways.

The second story features a quintet of characters - Mr. and Mrs. Forbes, their handsome 23-year-old son Graham, his unprepossessing wife Betty, and the person with whom Graham shared a bed the night before he and Betty were married. They all try to keep secrets from one another, and in some cases the secret is that they know the other's secret. It all makes for a thorny tangle.

Before an Amazon friend recommended SMUT to me, I was not familiar with Alan Bennett. I now will gladly read more of him. His writing is a treat: light, succinct, sophisticated, devilishly humorous, yet compassionate.
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