Alan Bennet: Smut

Two tales of sexual intrigue and the gaps and silences used to keep them tucked away. Smut, the latest offering by British playwright Alan Bennett is entertaining, a deliciously sinful exploit of British sensibilities.

The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson has a delicious push and pull of secrets and tension. There are so many elements throughout the story that I was genuinely surprised when widow Mrs. Donaldson experienced her unveiling that I actually risked waking the kids sleeping next to me to squeal. This is Alan Bennett’s writing: Mrs Donaldson became a real person for me, navigating her way through a confusing life that keeps happening to her (or is it?). The writing is twisted and coy, enough that Mrs. Donaldson’s performance of social graces hide reality, in more ways than one.

The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes follows along some very familiar story lines, the overbearing mother who hates her new daughter-in-law and fails to see her son as anything but bronzed perfection. As much as I enjoyed The Greening..  I found it difficult to really get into The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes and truly enjoy it. Bennett sticks to more of a stream of consciousness style of writing, again it reflects the sloppy lines of relation and distinction the characters take, particularly in comparison to Mrs. Donaldson’s proper segmented life. Bennett adds subtle nuances to make it uniquely his own but it still remains a known story. Bennett definitely hedged his bets with this story and played it safe. The reticence in the storyline informed on the text and it became rushed, as if Bennett couldn’t wait to expel on to paper this convoluted tale of crossed lives and blackmail. The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes is a solid piece of work but in comparison to The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson it pales.

The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes relies on some fairly antiquated ideas, all filtered through the spectacle of cell phones and internet savvy. It’s rife with delicious double-crosses but I just don’t see it. Each sentence is clipped and polished, much like the lives these characters appear to live, all packaged into neat and tidy boxes. The performance of normal is ever present, even as the characters delight in their seemingly subversive lives. The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes is notable for its subtle change in writing style, the sentences grow longer as the lies stretch beyond all means; a heavy vein of stream of consciousness undercuts the text.

Smut is definitely an enjoyable read and it does make me way to acquaint myself with more of his work. Smut is a well-written piece despite its turn at the cliché wheel.

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