Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

January 11, 2013

Plot summary (from the publisher): After decades of service and years of watching her family’s troubles splashed across the tabloids, Britain’s Queen is beginning to feel her age. She needs some proper cheering up. An unexpected opportunity offers her relief: an impromptu visit to a place that holds happy memories—the former royal yacht, Britannia, now moored near Edinburgh. Hidden beneath a skull-emblazoned hoodie, the limber Elizabeth (thank goodness for yoga) walks out of Buckingham Palace into the freedom of a rainy London day and heads for King’s Cross to catch a train to Scotland. But a characterful cast of royal attendants has discovered her missing. In uneasy alliance a lady-in-waiting, a butler, an equerry, a girl from the stables, a dresser, and a clerk from the shop that supplies Her Majesty’s cheese set out to find her and bring her back before her absence becomes a national scandal.

Mrs Queen Takes the Train is a clever novel, offering a fresh look at a woman who wonders if she, like Britannia herself, has, too, become a relic of the past. William Kuhn paints a charming yet biting portrait of British social, political, and generational rivalries—between upstairs and downstairs, the monarchy and the government, the old and the young. Comic and poignant, fast paced and clever, this delightful debut tweaks the pomp of the monarchy, going beneath its rigid formality to reveal the human heart of the woman at its center.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I thought the character of the Queen was well-written. Obviously none of us have any idea if Kuhn was even in the ballpark in terms of describing her innermost thoughts and feelings, but at least he made her interesting and sympathetic. She was the kind of character I wanted to spend time with and that I hoped would achieve her goal by the end of the book.
  • It was fun to see the Queen interacting with “commoners” without the benefit of any staff members to serve as buffers. I enjoyed these interactions, and bought the idea that no one would recognize her. After all, who would expect to see Her Majesty wandering around all alone in a hoodie?
  • I don’t know why, but I thought the Queen calling Rajiv “Cheddar” was totally hilarious! Just the thought of the Queen using such a nickname with someone struck me as funny, and the fact that she came up with it herself was what sealed the deal for me.
  • It was nice to see the Queen loosen up just a tiny bit as a result of having been out amongst her people for a day. She realized that the smallest things, such as holding onto a hand or maintaining eye contact for slightly longer than usual could make all the difference in the world to the person with whom she’s interacting.

Disliked:

  • The motley crew of characters that join forces to look for the Queen was too big, IMO. I had a lot of trouble getting a clear image of what the six people were like, which made the book rather slow going at the start. Moreover, none of these characters was half as interesting as the Queen herself, so I didn’t have much patience with their backstories.
  • The main plot is thin at best. The Queen doesn’t take off on her own until about 30 percent into the book (Kindle edition), and even then she just goes to the cheese store, uses a taxi, and boards a train. Not much actually happens to her, which again made the book move along rather slowly.

Rating:

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train is a novel with a strong premise and terrific protagonist. However, it suffers from too many secondary characters, too much time spent on their uninteresting personal histories, and too little forward progress in the plot. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

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