Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn is a fictional account of Britain's Queen Elizabeth's "escape" from the Palace and the chaos that ensues in its wake. The Queen is suffering from a malaise - the effects of getting older, losing her Mother and sister, and weathering difficult years in which the monarchy was torn apart in the press have taken their toll.  The Queen is not herself and on a bit of whim wanders out outside the Palace walls and, energized by her rare independence, she takes off on a train to Edinburgh to see her  beloved Royal Yacht Brittania  which is docked there after being put out of commission. The Queen's staff set out to find the missing monarch and their caper is laugh out loud funny but also offers keen observations of the class system in England and the power of tradition in the face of progress.

The Queen is yearning for a visit to her "happy place" - the Royal Yacht Brittania which was put out of commission in 1997 by the bean counters that manage the Privy Purse. The Queens resents that privileges such as the yacht have been stripped from the monarchy in the name of pleasing the public who wanted to ensure that the Queen and her family paid their share.  She has moved with the times but not always willingly. She wanders off the grounds of the Palace and gets taken with the idea of heading to Edinburgh like any commoner  - via the train.  On the train, she sits, incognito, with some passengers and learns a little about how "her people" really live.

It is interesting to see the Queen step out of her cosseted life with all her handlers; but the stars of this book are the Queen's staff.  Their respect for the Queen and the monarchy are clear throughout but there is a also a bit of tension brought on by the differences created by class.  The protocol of who can do what for the Queen and the hierarchy in the royal staff is fascinating. In the midst of all this formality, each member of staff is dealing with their own hardships and challenges ranging from coming to terms with their sexuality to facing their elders years alone. The challenges and each member of staff's way of coping with them play out over the course of their pursuit of the fleeing Queen. These subplots add a little, but not too much, gravity to an otherwise comical novel.

I truly enjoyed this book - the Anglophile in me loved reading about the monarchy and its customs. The premise is, of course, a little unbelievable but the alternating story lines of all the staff added a little reality to this story to create an excellent balance.  Interestingly, as much as the book pointed out the archaic customs of the Monarchy and showed how insulated the Queen can be, it also humanized the Queen.  I don't know, but doubt, that the Queen has read the book but I have to imagine she wouldn't be completely opposed to it as it shows her as a hard working public servant who cares for her family but mostly for her country and its people.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss

16 comments:

  1. Wow, this looks like a really fun read for my inner Anglophile. A somewhat similar read that I enjoyed was "The Uncommon Reader" by Alan Bennet. I'll definitely check this one out - thanks!

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  2. I was going to comment on how this reminded me of An Uncommon Reader, too. Except I wasn't crazy about that one, so I doubt I'd try this one. I do wonder, though, what the Queen would think.

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  3. Oh my gosh! Just read about this in People magazine...I'm a total anglophile...adding this to Goodreads now!!
    Thanks for the review!!!

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  4. Colleen, thank you for this detailed and sensitive review. Mrs Queen has not read the book, so far as I know, but if the Privy Purse emails asking me for a copy, I will send them one post haste. Bill

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  5. I love the idea of this one. This is the second review I've seen, and I definitely need to pick this book up soon. I'm due a fun read.

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  6. This sounds like such a fun book! My mother's fascinated with the British monarchy so I bet she'd love it.

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  7. I've been hearing about this book for a while and I'm sure I would enjoy reading it. It's a really fun concept!

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  8. I always wonder if the Queen reads these types of books …and, if so, what she thinks about them!

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  9. Sounds like a fun one! Reminds me a bit of the furor of The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett where the queen takes up reading.

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  10. I've heard a little about this book and your review makes it sound so delightful. It's a good rainy day book.

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  11. This really sounds like a fun read. It is so hard to imagine the Queen other than how we see her, so this should be an interesting take on her.

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  12. This is definitely my kind of book... and I love the cover, too!

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  13. Your review makes me yearn to read this book RIGHT NOW!

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  14. I so want to read this! I'm glad you loved it as that moved it much higher on my TBR list!

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  15. Hi there, the November edition of Books You Loved is now live. Here is the link Books You Loved November Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book you loved. Maybe this one? Cheers

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  16. Ha! I did read your review -- which is probably why I've been dying to read it!! :)

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