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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Laying on of Hands

Alan Bennett

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To purchase The Laying on of Hands

Title: The Laying on of Hands
Author: Alan Bennett
Genre: Story
Written: 2001
Length: 110 pages
Availability: in: The Laying on of Hands - US
The Laying on of Hands - UK
Jeux de paumes - France
Handauflegen - Deutschland
  • The Laying on of Hands was first published in the London Review of Books (7/6/2001)
  • In the American edition The Laying on of Hands is published together with Father ! Father ! Burning Bright (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

B : decent story around a perhaps too remarkable fellow

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 11/6/2002 Bernadette Murphy
The NY Times Book Rev. A 16/6/2002 Christopher Buckley
The Spectator . 6/10/2001 Hilary Mantel

  From the Reviews:
  • "Bennett plays with the emotional ambiguity at the heart of the story (...) using mordant humor to neutralize the weightiness of the subject matter. Unfortunately, the story ends on a note suggestive of the sexual-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church." - Bernadette Murphy, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Bennett's insights are hilarious and trenchant." - Christopher Buckley, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Alan Bennett's sentences, too, seem to unravel like an old pullover. The reader feels they ought to end in ellipsis, though they never actually do (.....) On closer inspection, each paragraph reveals itself as balanced, weighed, precisely calibrated; a fine little malice machine. Bennett approaches his characters with an agitated compassion, a baleful sympathy that adds to their troubles." - Hilary Mantel, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Laying on of Hands is set largely at a memorial service. A young man, Clive Dunlop, died. He was apparently much-loved, at least judging by the many in attendance at the service. In fact, it turns out he was literally very much loved.
       Clive had been a masseur -- one whose "skill transcended mere physical manipulation." He had many clients and many friends, and it is soon obvious that he was more intimate with many of them (of both sexes) than mere massage might have called for. Among those he was intimate with was Father Geoffrey Jolliffe, who leads the service (or, at any rate, tries to). There are all sorts of prominent people present as well -- and there is Canon Treacher, an archdeacon who takes notes during the service.
       Father Jolliffe doesn't feel too guilty about his relations with the deceased, but questions and qualms do arise during the course of the service. While at theological college his tutor had written about him: "Tends to confuse God with Joan Crawford", which still seems about right. Clive's death bring to the fore many issues of concern to him. He is missing some clarity of purpose in his life generally, and he can't quite lead the service in the way he wants to. Still, those assembled -- not the usual church-going folk, with a few exceptions -- seem quite pleased with the outcome (none more so than Miss Wishart, who comes to every service but finds "she seldom got such a good ride as this").
       Clive meant much the same to many people, but in different ways. Called upon to offer recollections they paint a varied picture of the man. He was the ideal partner, the understanding complement for each -- but in so many different ways, even known by different names to various people, to fit whatever needs they had.
       Clive's premature death (in distant Peru) further clouds the picture. The spectre of AIDS hovers over him -- and thus the many assembled here who were intimate with him. (In a nice aside a publisher notes: "Clive's death could be made -- and moralistically speaking ought to be made -- more ambiguous than it really was.")
       Jolliffe remains confused and uncertain -- and uncertain too of whether he will ever find love or sex again now that Clive, who made it all so easy, is gone. The service was a test -- by the Church, for one, with the archdeacon as examiner (and here Jolliffe does not acquit himself ideally). But it was also a test of Jolliffe the man -- and here there is greater hope.
       Bennett tells his tale quite well, though there is more description than one generally finds in his work (and dialogue tends to be his strongest point). There is the usual wit and cleverness, and it is also a thoughtful piece. The most serious shortcoming is the mystery man Clive, who simply sounds too good to be true. The way in which he affected so many people is not completely (or at least sufficiently) convincing, and too much of the story hangs upon his great powers. Still, it is a nice little piece.

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The Laying on of Hands: Reviews: Alan Bennett: 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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© 2002-2010 the complete review

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