Mrs Queen Takes the Train – by William Kuhn
This novel recently appeared at work and caught my attention with the cover and the excerpt in the jacket. It’s positioned as a light hearted and at the same time poignant look at the remainders of British royalty, and I raced through the story. Here’s why:
The Queen (that’s Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II to you, thank you) is feeling a bit off. In spite of herself, she’s become disillusioned with her life, between her duties as little more than a figurehead of a fading institution, and her private life, which is so informed by public concerns. Of course, it wouldn’t do for someone in such a privileged position to be ungrateful or dissatisfied with their lot – but Her Majesty is nevertheless restless and unhappy. Perhaps what she needs is to remember, as Julie Andrews suggests in The Sound of Music, a few of her favourite things and take her mind off everything for a while.
The Queen doesn’t intend to leave Buckingham Palace unattended and without letting anyone know, but when she finds herself outside the grounds she decides it might be just the thing to re-visit one of her favourite places, on her own, and be someone other than The Queen, for just a little while.
When a handful of Household staff discover The Queen’s absence they decide to see if they can’t find her and make sure she’s safe themselves rather than allowing MI-5 to launch a full scale operation to bring her home. Anne, Shirley, William, Luke, Rebecca and Rajiv are in for one of the most defining nights of their lives as they scramble towards Edinburgh and The Queen.
The Queen was completely adorable – genuinely concerned about everyone she came into contact with, with an endearing level of naiveté about the potential dangers in popping off to Scotland of an evening on public transport by oneself, and a realistic struggle to come to terms with feelings of uselessness, as more and more of her jobs as Queen are chipped away and her actual role seems less relevant than ever. She was a wonderful character, the heart of this book, and in herself is more than enough reason to read it!
The supporting cast is a fascinating crew, from Luke who’s suffering some staunchly denied PTSD from his time in Iraq and the friend he lost there. William has served the Royal family his whole life, and although gay men are welcome in an informal don’t-ask-don’t-tell way, he’s concerned that Luke might complicate his safe, lonely routine. Anne is third generation Royal staff, and proud to be so, but as she nears retirement age she’s not sure how she’ll manage to survive without her income. Shirley is closer to the Queen than most but has very little time for the ladies-in-waiting like Anne, until she gets the chance to see how similar the she and Anne are, and how fiercely loyal they both are to HRH. Rebecca doesn’t like people, really, and certainly not anywhere near as much as she likes horses. But she’s willing to entertain Rajiv’s interest in her as long as he helps her catch up to The Queen.
Their experiences here will change them all, and mostly for the better, as their respect, affection and concern for Her Majesty bring them together. And they are wonderful journeys for the reader to be a part of.
This was a gorgeous book! It expertly blended the concerns of The Queen as a monarch with her needs as an actual person, and Kuhn’s version of The Queen was a beautifully rounded character. I loved her quiet thoughtfulness, her casual optimism about people, and her steadfast determination to do whatever she could for her subjects no matter whether she was appreciated for it. A delightful, funny, charming novel.
What do you think about fictional works using characters based on real, living people? Cool or weird? Or is it all relative depending on how well it’s done?