BR: ‘Talking Heads’ by Alan Bennett

Contains spoilers!

‘Talking Heads’ is a set of dramatic monologues originally broadcast by the BBC in the 1980s and 90s. Although they were written for television, I find that they work just as well as a set of short stories, and it was interesting to watch some of them afterwards, comparing my impressions of the characters with the actors’ interpretations. I admire the way in which Bennett has managed to mimic the speech patterns of various different characters, with all their flaws and idiosyncracies, so that their words sound natural both on paper and spoken aloud.

Each monologue is narrated by a different character, but there are some overarching themes. Each one is full of wit and pathos and has a dark, surprising twist. There is also something rather old-fashioned about the world of ‘Talking Heads’; it reminded me of the lost Britain of the ‘Just William’ stories, a country populated by clergymen, umarried old ladies and members of the WI. However, I think the monologues are just as moving today as they would have been when first broadcast.

My favourite pieces in the collection were undoubtedly the darker ones: ‘Playing Sandwiches’, which gives a disturbing insight into the mind of a paedophile; ‘The Outside Dog’, narrated by a compulsively neat woman whose husband is a murderer; and ‘A Woman of No Importance’, the desperately sad story of a lady who tries to keep a purpose in life while in the grip of a mysterious illness. I think Bennett’s subtle sense of humour often works best when combined with more serious subjects; it works as a form of tension release. By comparison, the less weighty subject matter of monologues like ‘The Hand of God’, which deals with a junk shop owner missing out on the find of a lifetime, is unimpressive.

Overall I recommend ‘Talking Heads’, either to watch or read, as an exemplary set of dramatic monologues.

Book Haul

As I had a few vouchers to spend, I spent an excellent day visiting the Piccadilly Waterstones as well as Hatchards, the oldest bookshop in London, so I thought I would share my takings with you:

The Red House

I really enjoyed ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ and this book seems intriguing, promising humour, tension and family secrets.

The Gravedigger's Daughter

I was trying to decide between several of Joyce Carol Oates’ books as she is an author whose work I have never read but have wanted to try for some time. Eventually I settled on this one: it sounds dark and mysterious and I was drawn in by the unusual notion of gravedigging as a profession.

The Echo Maker

This is a novel about the consequences of an accident for a victim who suffers a traumatic brain injury. Fickle, I know, but the typeface and cover are gorgeous too!

Kind Of Cruel

Sophie Hannah is another author whose work I have wanted to sample for a while and the psychological thriller is a genre which really interests me at the moment.

Literary Theory

I feel like my knowledge of literary theory at the moment is very patchy so I thought this book seemed comprehensive enough to fill in a few gaps.

Collected Poems

At £25, this book is quite pricey but it contains most of Duffy’s work and considering that each volume alone is usually £9.99, ‘Collected Poems’ seems like a bargain!

Puffin Notebook

Technically this is not a proper book, but it is very fat, has narrow lines and there are puffins on the front cover so I think it represents everything that is good and noble about notebooks.

I look forward to reading these and hopefully posting a book review or two. Please comment if you’ve read any and tell me what you think!

Poem: Fairies

I believe in fairies
Not the kind with streets
Cobbled with canines or
Broken butterflies on their backs
But the kind that drift
Around the garden on a summer’s day
Like a lazy train of thought
The ones you can catch in your hands
And blow away like a kiss

And there is magic in the way
Toadstools appear overnight
Like a polka-dot circus
Spreading, sprouting, sprawling
Into a glorious city

And sometimes in the humming
Jazz piano piece of a warm June day
When the hedgerows bubble with berries
And birds are laughing in the trees
It is not very hard to see
Why people once believed.