Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review of "Mrs. Queen Takes the Train" by William Kuhn




Queen Elizabeth is feeling a bit low when she walks over to her London stables to visit her horses on a blustery day. Young Rebecca, who tends the horses, lends the sovereign her hoody jacket and soon afterwards the unrecognizable Queen takes off for Scotland to visit her beloved Britannia - the former royal yacht that's now a tourist attraction.

The royal staff makes frantic plans to catch up with the Queen and return her to Buckingham Palace. This includes William the butler, Luke the equerry, Shirley the dresser, Anne the lady-in-waiting, Rebecca the horse caretaker, and Rajiv - a cheese seller who sold the queen some cheddar. MI-6 even gets in on the act.

Though this is a work of fiction the feelings attributed to the Queen ring true. She is still reeling from the 'annus horribilus' of a few years before when all of her children's marriages fell apart, the most scandalous being the divorce of Charles and Diana. Her majesty is also bewildered by the public's hostility to her following Diana's death when all Queen Elizabeth did was 'keep a stiff upper lip' - as she was trained to do. Computers, twitter, and facebook also puzzle the Queen. In short, the world is changing and the Queen is having a hard time keeping up.

The book contains both drama and humor. We learn about the background of each of the characters: Luke's tragic war experience, William's homosexuality, Anne's estrangement from her son, Shirley's financial worries, Rebecca's eco-terrorist boyfriend, and Rajiv's harassment by bigots. But the Queen's 'escape' has fun aspects as well: the sovereign befriends many people she meets on her way to Scotland, and some think she seems familiar but they just can't place her. At different times the Queen is mistaken for a cleaning lady, a drinker, and a homeless person.

The author apparently did his research and the scenes in the palace - as well as the thoughts and feelings attributed to the Queen - seem authentic. From the Queen's point of view her life isn't that much fun; her royal duties require her to constantly attend functions she doesn't enjoy and make small talk with people who aren't interesting. One thing that struck me was how sheltered Queen Ellizabeth's life probably is and how out of touch she is with the lives of 'common people' - who shop for groceries, buy cars, rent apartments, make doctor appointments, drive their kids to school, go to soccer games, eat fast food, and so on - things the Queen has probably never done. In that respect, William and Kate are likely to be much more savvy.

I thought the story was interesting but it moved too slowly. Several times I felt bored and thought about abandoning the book but I kept going - and I'm glad I did. I think I have a little more insight into the Queen's life now.

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