Thursday, June 16, 2011

{review} smut

Alan Bennett Smut: Two Unseemly Stories (2010)

Smut

The OED defines the sort of "smut" we understand here as "indecent or obscene language". Alan Bennett's Smut consists of two stories, two "unseemly" stories. In the first, 'The Greening of Mrs Donaldson', the landlady protagonist Mrs Donaldson finds herself in the unusual position of having a tenant couple pay their overdue rent by letting her watch them have sex. In the second story, 'The Shielding of Mrs Forbes', we enter the intimate world of familial sexual deception as a wife attempts to rescue her husband from the consequences of his homosexual infidelities while trying to keep his clinging mother and straying father reigned in. Both stories epitomize Bennett's marvellous ability to capture the bizarre that exists within the everyday.
‘We generally fool around a bit to start with,’ said Andy. ‘Oh yes,’ said Mrs Donaldson knowledgeably. ‘Foreplay.’ Mrs Donaldson’s first instinct was to look away so that rather than frankly considering this naked young man kissing his equally naked girlfriend with his hand buried between her legs she found herself looking at the floor and wondering if it was time she had the carpet cleaned. ‘Bring back memories?’ said Laura, Andy’s face now where his hand had been. ‘Ye-es,’ said Mrs Donaldson, though the truth was it was a memory of a vase in the British Museum. In any case Laura wasn’t listening, her body lifting itself clear of the insistent head. Other things Andy was doing had not even been in the British Museum, and Mrs Donaldson found herself leaning forward and slightly to the side in order to take in what the young man was up to and where. Though his face was largely buried between Laura’s legs Andy’s one unoccluded eye detected Mrs Donaldson’s focus of attention and obligingly shifted his head so that it rested against Laura’s thigh, thus providing Mrs Donaldson with an uninterrupted view.
In 'The Greening of Mrs Donaldson', Bennett beautifully constructs the day to day life of the widowed Mrs Donaldson as she grows into her role of a lifetime, that of volunteer 'patient' for a group of medical students. There are all those clever little moments when Bennett is so Bennett-like and gnomic:
She was playing a part both at home and at work, she was quite candid about that. She was learning to pretend whereas previously (when her husband was alive) the closest she got to pretence was politeness. Until now pretence with her had never been, as they said nowadays, proactive.
The heroine of 'The Shielding of Mrs Forbes' has also hidden her intelligence under a bushel.
She wasn’t wholly infatuated, though she liked the way he looked; but, so too did he and that uninfatuated her a bit.
She works quietly behind the scenes to unravel the disaster which her considerably less intelligent husband has brought upon himself.
‘It worried me’, said Betty ‘that he spent so much time on his fingernails, although men do moisturise nowadays, don’t they?’ ‘They do,’ agreed Mr Forbes (who didn’t). ‘He was always fastidious even as a boy and he had an umbrella at a very early age. Still, I wouldn’t worry about it. He likes you, that’s the main thing.’ ‘Yes,’ said Betty, ‘but he is gay.'
...
This new Graham now left his shirt on the floor and his shoes all over the place so that Betty wondered at first if he was having a breakdown before deciding he wasn’t imaginative enough for that.
I enjoyed these two self-aware little stories and I would have enjoyed a few more along the same lines. This must be a very small book (I read it on the Kindle, so can't judge its physical size).

Rating: 7/10

If you liked this... I read Smut at the same time that The Awl was re-reading Fanny Hill which, to my mind, is far easier to classify as smut (or, less politely, as outright pornography). I couldn't face Fanny Hill again (or, indeed, any of those forbidden books read as a teenager), but for purposes of research I was pleased to see Amazon recommending me (thanks to Smut) the reasonably funny Maudie (an Edwardian classic: "It certainly was a very fine one, and it had been admired all over Europe. They’ve got a model in clay of it in Suzette de Vries’ place in the Rue Colbert. On his birthday it is hung with ribbons.") and the really quite repulsive Venus in the Country. The Awl piece suggests that one attempts to get "...its globular appendage, that wondrous treasure bag of nature's sweets, which revelled round, and pursed up in the only wrinkles that are known to please, perfected the prospect" into polite conversation this week, but my own personal project is to use all of the following from Venus in the Country: "doughty tool", "receptive dell", "furry honeypot", "female lovepot", and "warm grotto". I'll let you know if I get the sack.

Maudie (Wordsworth Classic Erotica)  Venus in the Country Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland (Unexpurgated Edition) (Halcyon Classics)

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