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Reviews Round-up

The critics' verdicts on Anne Enright and Alan Bennett.

Smut: Two Unseemly Stories by Alan Bennett

"It would be too much to say that he's challenging himself," the Guardian's Sarah Churchwell notes of Alan Bennett's Smut: Two Unseemly Stories. Nevertheless, his focus on character role-play and middle-age sex offers "plenty of Bennett's trademark pleasures," she writes.

David Robinson for The Scotsman sees only The Greening of Mrs Donaldson - a story of a widowed woman who makes money as a patient feigning sickness - as one which displays "at least hints of Bennett's genius". "There are none in the second - about the foiling of a blackmail attempt on an ultra-narcissistic gay husband - which shoves its protagonists about as wildly as a Punch and Judy show."

But for the FT's Simon Schama the collection's triumph lies in The Shielding of Mrs Forbes, "which is racy in both senses (its pace is speedy, the prose bounding) and is as wicked as anything that Joe Orton might have dreamed up... If you are expecting the usual Bennett bag of acid-drop laughs, you won't be disappointed," Schama assures.

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

Continuing in her treatment of the Irish family, Anne Enright's latest offering The Forgotten Waltz is an entanglement of relationships, set to the backdrop of the economic collapse. "[She] has produced an important novel," praises Claire Kilroy for the FT. "A portrait of a young state trapped in a punitive aftermath, and as such, it can be viewed as the first major work of literature to reflect on the Irish comedown."

The Gathering - the 2007 Booker title - "was an angry novel," Kilroy notes. "But The Forgotten Waltz is ostensibly an acceptant one. And it has to be acceptant - otherwise it would not reflect the Irish condition...Enright shrewdly leaves it to the reader to feel enraged... It is a novel about how it feels to be wrong, and to be left to deal with the consequences of that delusion."

Mary Shine Thompson for The Irish Independent commends The Forgotten Waltz as "brutally honest and skilful" in its treatment of self-delusion. To Thompson, Enright's exploration of her characters' "self-loathing" takes shapes as a "discomfiting public examination of conscience, an exposé of our national shortcomings so recently in the limelight".