March 23, 2012 10:03 pm

Unseemly pleasure

A widow takes a pair of lodgers to fill a shortfall in the rent while a gay and vain banker marries a plain Betty

Smut: Two Unseemly Stories, by Alan Bennett, Profile, RRP£6.99, 208 pages

 

With an enticing keyhole cut into the cover to reveal a bedstead, it’s no surprise that voyeurism and amateur blackmail are the thrust of Bennett’s cheeky pair of “unseemly” stories.

In the first, widowed Mrs Donaldson acts out maladies for students at a teaching hospital. To her daughter’s consternation, she fills the social gap left by her ungrieved-for husband by taking in a pair of lodgers, who soon provide an exuberant alternative to a shortfall in the rent.

Gay and vain banker Graham, apple of his overweening mother’s eye, marries plain Betty in the second tale, a hilarious romp of breached “suburban rectitude”, deceit and sexual manoeuvring. Gary likens the fumble of marital sex to “cracking a safe” in one of many delicious euphemisms that pepper Bennett’s understated prose.

Both tales offer ribald pleasure. Bennett’s politely lubricious style is a joy, and his unseemly material is frank, funny and entertaining.

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