Smut

Smut

by Alan Bennett

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Overview

One of England's finest and most loved writers explores the uncomfortable and tragicomic gap between people's public appearance and their private desires in two tender and surprising stories.

In The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson, a recently bereaved widow finds interesting ways to supplement her income by performing as a patient for medical students, and renting out her spare room. Quiet, middle-class, and middle-aged, Mrs. Donaldson will soon discover that she rather enjoys role-play at the hospital, and the irregular and startling entertainment provided by her tenants.

In The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes, a disappointed middle-aged mother dotes on her only son, Graham, who believes he must shield her from the truth. As Graham's double life becomes increasingly complicated, we realize how little he understands, not only of his own desires but also those of his mother.

A master storyteller dissects a very English form of secrecy with two stories of the unexpected in otherwise apparently ordinary lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594609322
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 01/03/2012
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 864,478
Product dimensions: 4.60(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.50(d)

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.

Reading Group Guide

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Smut are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Smut.

About the Book

One of England's finest and most loved writers explores the uncomfortable and tragicomic gap between people's public appearance and their private desires in two tender and surprising stories.

In The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson, a recently bereaved widow finds interesting ways to supplement her income by performing as a patient for medical students, and renting out her spare room. Quiet, middle-class, and middle-aged, Mrs. Donaldson will soon discover that she rather enjoys role-play at the hospital, and the irregular and startling entertainment provided by her tenants.

In The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes, a disappointed middle-aged mother dotes on her only son, Graham, who believes he must shield her from the truth. As Graham's double life becomes increasingly complicated, we realize how little he understands, not only of his own desires but also those of his mother.

A master storyteller dissects a very English form of secrecy with two stories of the unexpected in otherwise apparently ordinary lives.

About the Author

Alan Bennett has been one of England's leading dramatists since the success of Beyond the Fringe. The History Boys (Faber, 2006) won six Tony Awards; his most recent play is The Habit of Art.

1. Why do you think that the novel is entitled Smut? What statements do you think that Bennett is making by using a title with such connotations?

2. What connections can be drawn between the two novellas? Is the topic of sex approached the same way in both novellas? Do the characters share similar feelings about maintaining separation between their public and personal lives?

3. Do you ever feel as if you lead a double life? Do you think that everyone has habits that would shock the people that know them best? Or do you think that the characters are extreme examples of the disparity between an individual's personal life and the fronts that he or she puts on publicly?

4. Mrs. Donaldson and Graham Forbes both conceal sexual secrets from those around them, but they react very differently to the possibility of those lives being exposed. Why do you think that Mrs. Donaldson was secretly thrilled by the potential revelation of her secret life, while Graham succumbed to his blackmailer? The fact that their secrets were indeed known by those around them is ironic. What do you think Bennett was trying to say about the separation of our public selves and our secret lives?

5. The end of "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson" was left open-ended. How do you think things would have ended with Ollie? What do you think she would have done about Dr. Ballantyne's proposal?

6. In both stories, Bennett focuses on family. How do you think that Mrs. Donaldson's relationship with her late husband and her daughter affected her decision-making? Why do you think it was so important for Graham to conceal his homosexuality from his parents? Why do you think his parents never told him that they suspected him of being homosexual? What do these concealments say about the relationships within these families? Is Bennett making a statement about all families, or are these families somehow different from the average family?

7. "The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes" includes several surprising twists. Which one surprised you most? Did you find all of the characters' actions believable?

8. What elements of British humor does Bennett employ? How do you think the book would have been different if it had been written by an American author? Do you think that this type of humor works particularly well for these stories? How does Bennett's tone add to the book's overall message and meaning?

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Smut 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Davidgnp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's probably fair to say that my rating for this book would be a little higher if I were reviewing a writer I am not familiar with, but as Alan Bennett is one of my favourite authors my expectations are proportionately greater, and 'Smut' does not not rate as highly as most in the corpus.'Smut' comprises two longish short stories about unconventional sexuality in apparently conventional domestic situations. The fulcrum of 'The Greening of Mrs Donaldson' occurs when a student couple, tenants of the widow Mrs Donaldson, suggest she might like to watch them have sex in lieu of unpaid rent. 'The Shielding of Mrs Forbes' turns on the blackmailing of Mrs Forbes' newly-married son by his gay lover, a corrupt policeman. The stories are comic, wittily written in the Bennett style - deceptively homely with acerbic twists and curtain-parting satire. They are proficient sketches by a master, without much depth or texture.And I think that's the trouble, really. The stories are slight. The characters (with the exception of the emergent Mrs Donaldson) do not grow much beyond caricature. Bennett offers us more than whimsy, but not a great deal more. There is not that much we can carry away beyond the simple pleasure we find in the telling; as we do having watched, say, a well-turned Ayckbourn farce. I found myself wondering whether there was enough here for these two stories (though they are complementary) to merit publication on their own.Sometimes you end a book wanting more for all the right reasons, having invested so much in the story and the characters that you are reluctant to leave them, want to be along for the rest of the journey or a new one, or because you have developed some new understanding as a consequence of reading the book, and want to reach for further enlightenment. Here, I wanted more because I felt vaguely dissatisfied despite my enjoyment of the experience as far as it went. I felt a bit like Peggy Lee when she sings, 'Is that all there is?'Reviewer David Williams writes a regular blog as Writer in the North.
phollando on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this rather slight volumes sit two charming stories of unexpected sexuality. The first story is 'the Greening of Mrs Donaldson' and deals with a recently widowed middle-classed woman who to earn some extra income on the side takes a job at the local hospital as a part-time demonstrator helping medical students with their diagnosis technique by feigning different physical and mental conditions and at the same time catching the eye of their professor. As she takes in a couple of students as tenants she finds herself in an interesting predicament as the rent cheques begin to dry up there is an offer to pay the arrears in kind.The Shielding of Mrs Forbes features another unorthadox sexual arrangement. Mrs Forbes has a handsome, eligible if not air-headed son called Graham and he is betrothed to a somewhat plain but extraordinarily intelligent woman. They would be set for a happy life if it weren't for the fact that Graham was a closeted homosexual whose extra-marital sexual encounters get him under the control of a blackmailing policeman.Both stories are about people pretending to be whom they are not and failing miserably at the task. Both stories lead to rather unexpected conclusions and the brunt of the humour is rather directed not at the named protagonists themselves but at the people around who are in on the secret.It's a slender volume and the stories are entertaining enough but it does leave me wondering if they were of sufficient calibre to justify individual publishing. I think Alan Bennett has reached the same level as Umberto Eco where anything he says or writes from now on will be snapped up and bound which is great if you're an avid fan eager for new material but it is no guarantor of continuing or consistent quality.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Naughty was never so niceI¿m a fan of Alan Bennett¿s wonderful plays, but my greatest affection is reserved for his charming novella The Uncommon Reader. Coming in at a slight 160 pages, Smut is similar in length, but this book is made up of two brief stories. In content, they have nothing in common with that earlier tale, but they exhibit the same trademark humor and warmth. This is a writer it¿s difficult not to like. Therefore, it may be surprising to hear that Mr. Bennett is writing Smut. These tales are about sex¿at least in part. And though it¿s been years since I read them, these stories remind me of nothing so much as the ¿adult¿ stories of Roald Dahl. The first and longer of the two stories was my favorite. ¿The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson¿ involves a middle-aged widow who supplements her income by acting out symptoms for medical students to diagnose. There¿s much more to it, of course, but half the pleasure here is in the discovery. The other half of the pleasure is the loveable and very human Mrs. Donaldson. And then the third half of the pleasure is the gentle humor.I didn¿t like the characters in ¿The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes¿ quite as much, but they weren¿t meant to be as likable. The vain Graham Forbes has several secrets he¿s keeping from his new wife, but it turns out she has an agenda of her own.Despite Bennett¿s natural sweetness, these stories really do discuss sexual matters in a very frank and adult manner. Nonetheless, I wouldn¿t describe them as graphic. I wouldn¿t hesitate to recommend The Uncommon Reader to anyone who¿s ever loved a book. I won¿t be recommending Smut quite as unreservedly. I think more open-minded readers will enjoy these stories the most. But I enjoyed them immensely, and I do recommend them.
abealy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alan Bennett is brilliant and this short comedy on the conventional mores and prejudices of English life is wonderfully illuminating.
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I purchased this based on a review I read in O Magazine. It sounded funny so I decided to give it a try. That was a HUGE mistake. If I could have given this zero stars I would have. I couldn't even bring myself to finish this book. I do not think this was worth $9.99 and I wish I could get my money back. It wasn't funny. I didn't find it well written. I didn't even find the story lines interesting. It is comprised of 2 short stories, I managed to finish the first one and I felt ashamed that I had read it. It was such a waste of time. I don't know how this story has gotten an average 3.5 star rating. I feel like there must have been a mix up in the book that I received!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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