The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett

I adore Alan Bennett, and if you’re a fan too, this slim but perfectly formed volume will delight you.

I haven’t seen the film yet, starring Dame Maggie Smith, but at the time of writing this I’m off to the movies tomorrow, and I can’t wait.

the lady in the vanI adore Alan Bennett, and if you’re a fan too, this slim but perfectly formed volume will delight you. It’s the true story of how in 1974 the homeless Miss Shepherd moved her broken down van that she lived in, into the front garden of Bennett’s home.

She wasn’t the easiest of sitting tenants and Bennett was a reluctant landlord and he makes us feel his guilt and occasional twinges of anger at her behaviour. She lived there for 15 years in abject squalor (the descriptions of the interior of the van are not for the faint hearted!) and her bathroom habits are pretty hard to take (black bin liners are involved and the stench was overpowering.)

But the humour is always bubbling under the surface and when she writes to the President of Argentina offering him her solution to the Falklands, it’s hard not to laugh.

Bennett says that "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 is that rare breed that can have you weeping with laughter at the same time as wiping away tears of despair, but the laughter always wins out. For all his guilt and remorse at his dealings with Miss Shepherd, he should be highly commended for allowing her to stay on his front garden for so long.