I’ve had a very nice vacation from writing for the past couple weeks, but I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading instead. So I’ve got a few reviews coming up in the next week. Starting with Mrs. Queen Takes the Train.
As all fellow Anglophiles are well aware, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are having a baby!
I remember coming home from England on April 19, 2011 and sitting down to watch the Royal Wedding just a few days later. I was working on the centerpieces for my own wedding. I was sad not to actually be there, but let’s be honest—I got a way better view on TV than I would have if I’d been there in front of Buckingham Palace.
The whole world had its eyes on them, and with the announcement of the future King or Queen’s arrival, the world is once again mad about Kate. So it strikes me as intriguing that the literary world is not spending its time fictionalizing Kate and William’s fairytale life. Writers are instead turning their attention toward a figure much less fantastic, but perhaps more compelling.
It’s as if, with The Uncommon Reader and Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, literati are reminding us of who’s actually in charge, and how little we know her.
But while I admire William Kuhn for writing about HRH Queen Elizabeth II, I’m not sure that I liked this particular story that he invented for her.
In Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, there is much ado when the Queen suddenly goes missing. She’s been feeling glum lately, the closest members of the staff have noticed. The readers see that she goes to the stables to see one of her favorite horses, and then she goes to a cheese shop to buy some cheese for the horse. At that point she decides to take a train from Waverley Station to Edinburgh because she wants to visit the beloved Britannia, the royal yacht that is no longer in service, but on which Elizabeth spent many happy times.
Of course, the staff needs to find her, and some unlikely alliances are formed in the effort to find the Queen. It’s a cute story and the characters are likeable, but I was disappointed in Kuhn’s portrayal of the Queen herself. It seems that everyone in the book—including the Queen herself!—treats the Queen condescendingly. When talking to herself, the Queen refers to herself as “Little Bit” and submits docilely and, it seems, happily, to being coddled and taken care of. She has no gumption and even though she is sweet and kind, I did not quite like her. I suppose Kuhn has just as much right to this imagining of the Queen’s life as I have to my own, but in my version her outward composure is a reflection of her inward dignity, not timidity. Anything could be true.
I did appreciate Kuhn’s explanation of the Queen’s seemingly cold reaction to the news of Diana’s death. Many in Britain thought the Queen heartless and criticized her, but in Kuhn’s story, the Queen blames herself for not taking Diana’s depression seriously. Her stoic response was prompted by the very British notion of having a “stiff upper lip.” She was shocked by the country’s emotional response to Diana’s death; it was so very un-British. It’s something Americans would do, not Brits. I liked this explanation.
By the end of the book, the Queen is recaptured, but I did not get the sense that she was victorious in any way. I wanted her to return from her excursion a changed, even more heroic person, but there was little character growth.
Next I’ll have to watch The Queen starring Helen Mirren. I hope for a more sophisticated look at the Queen’s life.