The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett, UK, 1989

At ninety-two very small pages, this is a 'book' that can easily be read in an hour or so. Bennett, a playwright, wrote The Lady in the Van from a collection of diary entries he made over a fifteen year period. It is non-fiction and tells about eccentric, elderly Miss Shepherd, who parked herself and her van in Bennett's London driveway; both stayed there for fifteen years until she was eventually removed by the undertaker and the van was towed off to a fate unknown.

 Bennett retains the diary-entry format, with many, possibly not so interesting, entries obviously removed. What remains tells the story of the strange relationship that developed between Miss Shepherd and Bennett, and we are given small glimpses of who Miss Shepherd might have been in her pre-van days and why her life mayt have spiralled so miserably out of control. There is sadness, but there is also a lot of humour, and as we turn the pages we become more and more aware of the bond between these two vastly different people.

Photo of Alan Bennett from

Miss Shepherd obviously had an enormous effect on Bennett. Not only did Bennett turn a selection of his diary entries into a small book, he also, in 1999, wrote a play (also entitled “The Lady in the Van”) for which he was nominated for a number of prizes. In 2015, the play, under the supervision of Bennett, was turned into a film with Maggie Smith in the title roll.
A thought-provoking look at those relationships that we do not choose but that choose us.

Image from the film from