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An absolute delight of a debut novel by William Kuhn (author of Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books) Mrs Queen Takes the Train wittily imagines the kerfuffle that transpires when a bored Queen Elizabeth strolls out of the palace in search of a little fun, leaving behind a desperate team of courtiers who must find the missing Windsor before a national scandal erupts. Reminiscent of Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, this lively, wonderfully inventive romp takes readers into the mind of the grand matriarch of Britain’s Royal Family, bringing us an endearing runaway Queen Elizabeth on the town—and leading us behind the Buckingham Palace walls and into the upstairs/downstairs spaces of England’s monarchy.
I can’t remember where I first stumbled across a mention of Mrs Queen Takes the Train, but the premise grabbed me immediately: Queen Elizabeth, who is feeling a bit depressed, decides to visit the decommissioned royal yacht Brittania, scene of many happy memories. The yacht is moored in Scotland, so The Queen* slips out incognito, makes her way with a stranger’s assistance to King’s Cross, and boards the night train to Edinburgh. She is followed by her equerry, her butler, her dresser, one of her ladies-in-waiting, a stablehand from the Palace Mews, and the young man who took her to the railway station, all of them concerned for her safety and eager to return The Queen to the Palace without incident.
Given the description, I expected a lighthearted and possibly madcap adventure. Instead I discovered a thoughtful literary novel which moves back and forth in time, exploring each character’s life and experiences before finally settling into a more sequential narrative in the last part of the book. Kuhn portrays each character and the sometimes uneasy relationships between them with sympathy and sensitivity. By the end of the book, I felt as though they had all, from the sales clerk to The Queen, become my friends. And even though the book is light on action, it moves toward a very satisfying conclusion.
*The capital letters matter. Trust me. Also, the British don’t use a period after Mrs, so it’s Mrs Queen, not Mrs. Queen.