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WRITING HOME by Alan Bennett

WRITING HOME

By Alan Bennett

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-44489-0
Publisher: Random House

 This hefty volume of writings by one of the original Beyond the Fringe members reveals the contours and continuities in Bennett's seemingly haphazard subsequent career as a playwright and screenwriter (most recently for The Madness of King George). These talks, diaries, book reviews, and bagatelles were written mostly for the London Review of Books, a venue amenable to the self-proclaimed ``soft centrist'' writer, whose compassion and intelligence come through vividly in this wonderful collection. In autobiographical essays, the butcher's son from Leeds neither wallows in his working-class roots nor discards them wholesale at the altar of high culture. A number of memoirs here record his uneasy entrance into the academic and cultural worlds, where he has always felt a bit awkward and embarrassed. He fondly eulogizes TV performer Russell Harty and his producer at the BBC, Innes Lloyd. His diaries of working on his plays, Forty Years On most prominent among them, include great theatrical anecdotes, especially about John Gielgud. Bennett's fondness for neurotic Czech Franz Kafka and grumpy librarian Philip Larkin leads to a number of essays and reviews. The lengthy selections from Bennett's diaries, mostly from the '80s, give vent to his distaste for Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch; chronicle a writer's conference in Moscow, a mugging in NYC, and his endless arguments with himself. The longest batch of entries tell the amazing story of a slightly deranged old woman who lived in a van in Bennett's driveway for 15 years. Fascinated by the sex lives of others, Bennett is coy about his own, relying on a faux sense of decorum that's much like his affected philistinism. Some satirical bits remind us most enjoyably of Bennett's skills as a writer for stage, TV, and the big screen. Chatty, modest, and always entertaining. (32 pages b&w photos, not seen)