“What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home”(Joan Osbourne). I have been singing this song in my head ever since starting to read the first title in this list. There has been a few really interesting novels written about Queen Elizabeth that makes her “human.” Most people just think of the figure head and about what they read Majesty magazine. Very few think of the hard work it takes to be a monarch, especially for a woman of advanced years with a family that brings her challenges. While I do picture the Queen as stoic and no nonsense, I also believe that she does have a sense of humour, unlike Queen Victoria's “we are not amused”. After all, for her 60th anniversary she had fun with James Bond at the opening of the London Olympics. The following novels may help you see her in a new light.
The Uncommon Reader (M) by Alan Bennett is the first novel I read about Queen Elizabeth. Truthfully, I had no idea of the subject matter when I first picked it up. I chose it because it was about a reader. This novella was first published in London Review of Books in 2007 before it published in book form by Faber and Faber. When trying to find her dogs one day the Queen stumbles across the Royal Mobile Library. Early on the Queen states that she reads because “one has a duty to find out what people are like”. Discovering this library the Queen develops a bit of an addiction. A young member of the kitchen staff helps select her reading materials. This is an eye opener and causes her to change her opinion of reading.“ One reads for pleasure. It is not a public duty” Her duties get in the way of her reading (I often feel that way). This result in an ending that I did not expect and perhaps you won't either!
Mrs. Queen Takes the Train (M) by William Kuhn is another novel that gives the reader glimpses into the life of the Queen. Kuhn even jokes about The Uncommon Reader by having the Queen state “Didn't read it. Fancy making me out to be a reader" Kuhn has her going on a light, fluffy royal romp by going on a walkabout. One of the major themes involves aging, both for the Queen and members of her staff. Even her possessions are taken away from her as they age. First it was her airplane, then her ship Britannica and now there is talk of discontinuing the royal train. This along with the fallout of the Diana years puts the Queen in a funk. A series of events involving cheese, a horse and a hoodie stenciled with skulls has her wandering unrecognized on the street on London. She then hops on the train heading north to her beloved ship. This puts her staff and a number of interesting characters in action, trying to find her before MI5 and the media expose yet another royal scandal. I found the novel charming, witty and very sympathetic. I highly recommend it.
The Autobiography of the Queen (M) by Emma Tennant is another fish out of water tale. In this case the Queen is across the water literally. She has decided to run away to St. Lucia under the guise of Gloria Smith. She has secretly purchased a villa but doesn't realize until she arrives that it has not been built! It is no more that a muddy hole in the ground. Tennant’s queen is a bit of a simpleton (which I don't believe she is). Even being faced with a suitcase with wheels presents a dilemma for her. “Does one simply pull it down the stairs?” she asked – but for once, there was no one there to reply.” Tennant quickly reduces the Queen to a batty old fool in flip-flops relying on her St. Lucia friend Austin Ford. Some readers may enjoy this, others may not. I will leave that up to them to decide.
Sue Townsend has written two books on this subject. The Queen and I (available via interlibrary loan) takes place in 1992. The newly elected Republican Party decide that the entire Royal family must learn to live like other Britons. So they boot them out of the castle and to a hideous housing estate (nicknamed Hell Close) The Queen reacts like I always imagine she would, with a stiff-upper lip and let's get on with it manner. Prince Phillip goes to pieces; Margaret still acts like a royal pain; Diana haunts thrift shops for designer clothes; Charles gets put in jail; the Queen Mother continues to bet on the horses and the corgi runs wild with a pack of mongrels. This was a huge best seller in Britain and I am sure you will enjoy it too dear reader.
And I couldn't help myself in adding one novel of the future queen. Queen Camilla (M) is a sequel to The Queen and I set 10 years later. I know that you are not suppose to judge a book by its cover but I did love this one. This novel features talking dogs which include Harris and Susan the deposed monarch's dorgies (a corgi-dachshund hybrids) and other odd comments from various hounds from the community. Boy English has seize political power and wants to restore the monarchy. The Queen does not want anything to do with that. Charles refuses to become monarch unless Camilla is guaranteed to be his queen. Just as William offers himself, up pops Graham Cracknall. Graham claims to be Charles and Camilla's secret love child. So will it be Long Live King Graham, or King William? Read this funny novel to find out.