After the devastating read, Foal’s Bread, I needed something jolly. And what could be better than the royally fun Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn?
What happens when Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, has had enough of protocol? She takes a train ride. On her own. While The Queen is enjoying her incognito outing, it’s mayhem at the Palace. An unlikely group of Palace staff (including two of the Queen’s most trusted household staff members, William and Shirley; one of her loyal ladies in waiting, Lady Anne; an equerry fresh from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Luke; a young equestrienne who minds the horses in the Royal Mews, Rebecca; and Rajiv, an Etonian poet who’s moonlighting as a tabloid photographer) are the only ones who know of her disappearance. They vow to find her and bring her back to the palace before MI6 turn her Scottish sojourn into a national crisis.
“We’re going to have a look-see. We’ll have her back here in a pair of pumps and tiara, ready to receive, in twenty-fours, won’t we?”
I make no secret of the fact that I’m a royal-family-fan. Always have been. Which is probably why I picked up this book in the first place (I can’t imagine republicans getting excited about a fictional account of Betty taking public transport to Scotland).
Kuhn comes close to poking fun but doesn’t quite and I’m glad he doesn’t. After all, that would have been way too easy. Instead, we enjoy The Queen checking out Twitter while her computer wobbles on the uneven surface of Queen Victoria’s antique desk, pulling yoga moves and marveling at the “price of things these days”.
I think I liked the concept of this book more than the actual story by the end. I wanted more of The Queen and less of the other characters whose stories dove-tailed together a little too conveniently for my liking. Furthermore, the traits of some of the characters seemed to contradict their actions. In particular, Luke, who is appointed to a very senior role within the Palace comes across as unsure and emotionally immature. And then there’s Rajiv. I didn’t like this character at all – portrayed on one hand as an Imran-Khan style charmer (which to my mind was plain sleezy) and on the other as a naive and over-excited schoolboy who worked in a cheese shop – nothing about him worked and yet he is the hero at the end of the story.
That aside, the moments with The Queen shine. For example, on discovering the Royal Train was to be decommissioned, The Queen says –
“‘Public opinion is fickle, Prime Minister. It changes weekly, monthly, annually. Why, in three years it will have altered altogether. Beyond recognition. The public will demand a new train to be built, and at vast new expense. It will be impossible then. Unaffordable. And I’ll be stuck on my way to Doncaster in a pony cart.” Then, taking aim at what she took to be his most vulnerable side, she added, ‘You’ll be out by then.'”
Finally, mention must be made of Diana. Much of this story is about the fact that The Queen is feeling glum and in feeling that way, acknowledges that Diana was depressed. The (fictional) Queen’s feelings toward Diana are generous, with the exception of how Diana’s death and funeral were handled (which is all the general public understand and remember) –
“What she objected to in the Diana hysteria, for it was that and she had no doubt of it, was the way all the traditions she valued had been rejected. All the public mourning struck her as positively Neapolitan, certainly not British.”
In real life, The Queen has enjoyed a glorious eighteen months – a jubilee, a royal wedding, the Olympics and now a heir on the way but I don’t think her loyal subjects can ever quite forgive the way Diana’s death was handled.
3/5 If you’re looking for a book to lend to your nana, this is it.
There’s only one thing to have with book and that’s a gin fizz and while you’re at it, check out Gin O’Clock, my favourite royal parody (the Gin O’clock app is well worth having at hand – packed with gin coctail recipes).