This is an excellent audio adaptation of a 2007 novella by English playwright, screenwriter and author Alan Bennett. It is read by Bennett himself and he does a wonderful job, subtly switching his voice to fit the different characters including the principal player: Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. The story is set a year or two behind the present and imagines the Queen suddenly obsessed with reading literature. Although she has met many of the greatest names in modern English Literature (T. S. Eliot, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes and the like), she has not up to been much of a reader. A chance encounter with a mobile library changes this and as a consequence changes her outlook on life and her role in the world. The blend of fact and fiction is seamless and there is a good sprinkling of jokes about the political landscape of Britain and the literary world in general. The humor is not overstated and Bennett avoids some of the more obvious comic possibilities. There are twists and turns in the story and I remained captivated right up to the closing words. With this download my iPod has trouble remembering where it was paused but the writing is so good that it doesn't hurt to listen to passages more than once.
Hearing these stories from Bryson himself adds a whole new layer to the subtle humor. While his reading is not as slick as a professional actor, it is intensely personal and thus all the more appropriate. His message is that Australia is an amazing and complex country that encompasses a whole continent, yet quite wrongly it is ignored by the rest of the world. Bill Bryson's deep affection for Oz comes across strongly from beginning to end. It is impossible not to want to follow in his footsteps. The book is long but I never tired of it and look forward to listening to this audiorecording all over again.
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