Smut by Alan Bennett
Two sex stories by Alan Bennett should be good. But I laughed at only one.
The problem is the sex. In The Greening of Mrs Donaldson, a middle-aged widow gets off watching her young student lodgers. Not just peeping, she sits openly at the foot of the bed as they put on a show, and then lets them off the rent. I think we are supposed to believe that her other sideline, role playing patients for the medical students in her local teaching hospital, has somewhat disinhibited her. I wasn’t convinced. Sure, voyeurism is interesting, but this was so unlikely that the laughs didn’t come.
In contrast the author reading The Shielding of Mrs Forbes on BBC Radio 4 over the last few weeks, had made me chuckle, and had prompted my wife to buy me the book – she knows me pretty well. A just-married gay man gets blackmailed by his boyfriend, without realising that everyone who matters, including his new wife, already know what floats his boat, and they don’t care a jot.
Bennett’s supposedly comic description of the widow’s mind wandering to domestic matters, as she watches the young ones bonking, just reminded me what an unlikely scenario I was reading about. But happily married men really do go off and look for a bit of gay action occasionally, so his lugubrious comments on the attendant inconveniences were much funnier.
But maybe that just shows the limitations of my imagination.
Alan Bennett. Smut: Two Unseemly Stories. Faber & Faber, London. 2011.