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by William Kuhn

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-220828-6
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

An imaginative glimpse into the queen of England’s psyche as she rebels against her routine.

Historian and biographer Kuhn’s first novel ought to find an avid readership among the filmgoers who flocked to The King’s Speech and The Queen. In fact, among the most delectable moments are when courtiers and queen reflect, with rue and occasional appreciation, upon the accuracy of such films. Sometime in the recent past, as British sentiment is swinging back from the anti-monarchism sparked by the Diana debacle, government economies are beginning to rankle the queen and feed into her increasing sense of malaise. It was bad enough when her yacht, Britannia, was decommissioned on the grounds that a constitutional monarch did not need a yacht. Now, they want to take away the private train that transports her to her Scottish retreat, Balmoral Castle. While walking alone in the Buckingham Palace gardens, the queen impulsively decides to visit Britannia where it’s moored, as a tourist attraction, near Edinburgh. At this point, storylines involving peripheral characters already introduced, at rather excessive length, by Kuhn, coalesce. Rebecca, a troubled young woman who works in the royal stables, and Rajiv, a young man of Indian heritage with poetic aspirations who’s employed by the royal cheese purveyor, help the queen aboard a public train to Edinburgh, where incognita in Rebecca’s hoodie, she chats up unsuspecting fellow passengers. Meanwhile, Luke, an equerry who is still reeling from his service in Iraq, and William, the queen’s butler, team up to locate the queen before MI5 and the tabloids do. A lady-in-waiting, Anne, and the queen’s loyal chief dresser, Shirley, are also on Her Majesty Elizabeth II’s trail. Kuhn does a convincing job of inhabiting the heads of his characters, crowned or not. Until an overworked denouement restores her remoteness, Kuhn’s queen is generous with surprising ruminations on her love for dogs, horses (but not deer!), Dubonnet and gin, and her subjects.

An affectionate, sympathetic but also unstinting look at the woman inside the sovereign.