27 February 2009

The History Boys (Alan Bennett)

Sometimes it sucks being a girl. There aren't many books (or films) out there about the camaraderie of women during war, or women getting together to stick it to the big boys (unless it is something equal rights related and then of course, but we don't have an all female version of Watership Down is what I'm saying). All the best moments in Lord of the Rings are amongst the fellowship peeps (ALL MALE); Lord of the Flies is boys, it was Tom and Huck who went adventurin'... I could go on.

The History Boys is a play written by Alan Bennett. Earhart has already pointed out that GOOP is not a book, but honestly, that's the only thing I've read in the past couple of days. Now I shall probably be told The History Boys is a play, not a book. HOWEVER, I read the play, I didn't just see it on stage, so hopefully she will let it slide.

Alan Bennett has never written anything bad. EVER. If I'm going out on a limb to say that, it's an incredibly strong bough and could only be felled by a disaster of unbelievable proportions. His humour is gentle and crass simultaneously; his insecurities poured onto the page without reservation are heart-warming and brilliantly observed. When I moved to London I wrote to Alan Bennett to thank him for writing Untold Stories, as it made me feel I could make my own place in this big, scary city. (Look, it was cold and grey and I had just met a bunch of mad Swedes who made me go HIKING. Ugh.) At nine pages I'm certain he thought I was a fruitcake, as I'm sure you do too now, but that story is just to show the extent of his talent and how much it has resonated with me.

The History Boys is another prime example of why it's better to be a boy. Eight boys are trying for Oxford and Cambridge in the 1980s. The play is about their studying in the lead-up to these exams. Their education is presided over by three teachers, one of whom takes the term 'hands-on teaching' a little too liberally. The dialogue is fast, witty and confident; Bennett obviously knows what he is doing and allows his own Oxford education to come streaming onto the pages. However, it's the relationship between the students and the camaraderie they enjoy which is so inspiring and enjoyable. You can read it in a couple of hours, it is incredibly diverting and my IQ rose about 60 points (from an already astronomically high number) upon completion.

Rating: 9/10
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