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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical


The Lady in the Van

Alan Bennett

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To purchase The Lady in the Van

Title: The Lady in the Van
Author: Alan Bennett
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 1989
Length: 94 pages
Availability: The Lady in the Van - US
The Lady in the Van - UK
The Lady in the Van - Canada
La dame à la camionnette - France
Die Lady im Lieferwagen - Deutschland
La signora nel furgone - Italia
La dama de la furgoneta - España
  • The Lady in the Van was first published in the London Review of Books in 1989 and then in book form in 1990. A Postscript was added in 1994
  • Alan Bennett also adapted The Lady in the Van for the stage.
  • The Lady in the Van was made into a film in 2015, directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Maggie Smith

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice, if very small account

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       In The Lady in the Van Alan Bennett describes his very odd long-term relationship with "Miss Shepherd". Miss S. first came to the attention of Bennett in the late 1960s. She and her perpetually stalled van (or rather: a succession of such vans) could be found in his Camden Town neighborhood, parked ever-closer to Bennett's home. Eventually he allowed her to keep it in his own driveway, giving her sanctuary in his garden, as he describes it. It remained there -- with Miss S. living first there and then in a lean-to at the side of his house -- until her death in 1989.
       Bennett and Miss S. made for an odd couple. They were, in a sense, landlord and tenant, but other than some peace of mind (knowing Miss S. was "at least out of harm's way") Bennett didn't appear to benefit much from the arrangement. Miss S. wasn't the easiest person to deal with: "One was seldom able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation."
       Miss S. wasn't quite right in the head, but she got on well enough. Amazingly, between the social state and the beneficence of some of the locals, she fared well and happily enough, puttering about in her own little world, selling self-written tracts and pencils, doing pretty much as she pleased. She had a healthy if unusual philosophy, typified by her reaction to Bennett's boiler bursting, flooding his basement: "Miss S.'s only comment is 'What a waste of water.'"
       In his 1994 postscript Bennett describes The Lady in the Van as being condensed from "some of the many entries to do with her that are scattered through my diaries." It is a small book, picking from some two decades worth of material, with a focus on the beginning and then especially the end. Still, Bennett charts this touching, difficult relationship very nicely. There is hardly any closeness between the two -- they remain fairly formal towards one another, and it is only the fact that they live in such proximity that really makes them a part of one another's lives. Still, her presence obviously affected him, and he manages a nice portrait of this figure. (His presence -- and his generosity in tolerating her -- no doubt also helped to preserve her from getting completely lost.)
       Bennett's 1994 postscript also provides some more information about Miss S. and her origins, a useful and revealing addition to the book.

       (Note: Bennett also later adapted this material for the stage. The playscript -- also titled The Lady in the Van -- is also available.)

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The Lady in the Van: Alan Bennett: The Lady in the Van - the film: Other books by Alan Bennett under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review
  • See Index of Drama

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About the Author:

       British author, playwright, and actor Alan Bennett appeared in Beyond the Fringe and has written numerous highly acclaimed works.

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