Title: The Lady in the Van
Author: Alan Bennett
Genre: Nonfiction, Humor
Number of Pages (Paperback): 96 pages
Date Published: March 18th of 1999 (first published on January 1st of 1999)
Publisher: Profile Books
Synopsis (via GoodReads page here):
‘Life imitates art in The Lady in the Van, the story of the itinerant Miss Shepherd, who lived in a van in Alan Bennett’s driveway from the early 1970s until her death in 1989. It is doubtful that Bennett could have made up the eccentric Miss Shepherd if he tried, but his poignant, funny but unsentimental account of their strange relationship is akin to his best fictional screen writing.
Bennett concedes that “One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation”, but as the plastic bags build up, the years pass by and Miss Shepherd moves into Bennett’s driveway, a relationship is established which defines a certain moment in late 20th-century London life which has probably gone forever. The dissenting, liberal, middle-class world of Bennett and his peers comes into hilarious but also telling collision with the world of Miss Shepherd: “there was a gap between our social position and our social obligations. It was in this gap that Miss Shepherd (in her van) was able to live”.
Bennett recounts Miss Shepherd’s bizarre escapades in his inimitable style, from her letter to the Argentinean Embassy at the height of the Falklands War, to her attempts to stand for Parliament and wangle an electric wheelchair out of the Social Services. Beautifully observed, The Lady in the Van is as notable for Bennett’s attempts to uncover the enigmatic history of Miss Shepherd, as it is for its amusing account of her eccentric escapades. —Jerry Brotton’
Rate: 4 of 5
Ahh. The price of not reading the synopsis of a book before reading it altogether has got me strapped down again…To start it off, I didn’t know that this was nonfiction. Which really served me well because if I did, I wouldn’t have picked this up. I thought the cover was really artsy and all and so I did read it. Alas, it is so quick a read. I mean, it is so thin compared to other books. I like reading these kinds of books–straight to the point and no fuss.
BUT, I am weirdly broken about the ending. I know, it’s inevitable that soon Ms. Shepherd will (SPOILER!) die because of old age but I’m so broken about it. Oh my heart. Whilst reading the book, it made me feel fond of the quirky Ms. Shepherd. Her life was like on the dangerous side, but not quite. I don’t know how but it’s like that.
As much as I said that me not knowing that this is nonfiction did me good, I have to say, too, that I am partly sorry that I didn’t see this in a new light. If I knew that this happened in true life, I would have laughed harder on Ms. S’s weird but quirky lines, her weird routines in life, and IDK the fact that she lives in a van? She’s so stubborn and cute and enthusiastic and confident and so sure of herself and so unusual. I LOVE HER.
Lastly, I am excited to watch the movie because it really intrigues me as to how this would come off in the screen. The story seems something that you won’t see everyday, so that strikes my fancy! I’m also all the more excited because Professor Minerva McGonagall will be the lady in the van! How awesome is that?!
I did enjoy reading this one albeit so short. I especially liked the diary log form. (I’ve said that for perhaps a thousand times already–I love diary-like books!!!!)
I didn’t know I can read nonfiction again. Hmmm. Is it time for me to pick up nonfiction books again? It seems as if I had been reading some books out of my normal stuff. I’m glad I have a weird mix of books that I read. Anyway…
Do I recommend it? YES. Please, please, please read it.