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Susan’s Bookshelves: Father! Father! Burning Bright by Alan Bennett

This is a substantial short story first published in mini book form in 1999. Over the years Bennett has developed a pretty creative relationship with London Review of Books and this story is an example of that – and one of several such tiny, Beatrix Potter-size books on my bookshelves with Bennett’s name on.

Bennett’s characterisic laconic lugubriousness¬† colours¬† the story of Denis Midgley’s experience of his father’s death. It’s both funny and poignant –¬† a Bennett tradmark.

Midgley is called out of the secondary school at which he teaches English to go to the hospital where his plumber father is lying, dying after a stroke. Once he’s there we get a lot of well observed staff comments and behaviour and there’s Aunt Kitty who has set herself up at the hospital and specialises in non seqiturs, often racist. Other family members eventually turn up and Bennett’s depiction of them is a dead pan treat. The dialogue – as you’d expect – is wonderful. This could just as easily be a short play as a short story.

At home Midgley has an unsypathic wife, devoted to caring for her own resident mother, with whom rapport is strained. His relationship with his children is not great either. Midgley is, in short, a bemused man who finds any sort of real contentment elusive. Even Valery Lightfoot, one of the nurses looking after Midgley senior isn’t likely to change that.

It’s an entertaining one hour’s read for a dark evening when you need something intelligent but unpretentious.

Next week on Susan’s Bookshelves: A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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