Okay – in part because William Kuhn, the author, is going to be (is/was) available at the reading group where his book has been chosen for discussion 12/16-12/31, I decided to re-read Mrs Queen Takes the Train. I often read books two or even three times. The first time with this book I listened only and I then I started to re-listen, but it’s clumsy because the changes in point of view within the chapters aren’t terribly well delineated on the Audible version at all – just a tiny bit little longer pause. (Simon Prebble’s voice is great though!)
Reading this time I saw more clearly an overarching theme of aging and a generation gap between those who remember WWII and those who don’t. This translates over to the monarchy which tries to span the generation gap in a way – it’s not quite an anachronism, but not entirely a part of contemporary life. Rather, as Mrs Queen tries to be the sovereign of all the people, she’s like a bridge between the past and the present. And Kuhn goes back to WWII, Queen Victoria and even Henry V (via Shakespeare).
The photos remind me that Mrs Queen was a child in a different age and now lives in a very contemporary England. Interesting – even the yoga poses.
All the characters, including the Queen, have modern-day concerns which range from retirement to dating (gay and straight), to to animal rights and environmental concerns, racism (both Scots and Indians), and war memories. The Queen, now age 86+ or so, mostly has a past – not much of a future, but she tries to keep up with computers and activity with the people and so on. I think Mrs Queen tries to bring the civility of the past to the tensions of the present. She never – ever – breaks character, even when reminiscing on Diana and that awful year.
Another book I’m reminded of is Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (Helen Simonson) in that it emphasizes the changes in England – the generation gap between those who remember the ways things were before WWII and those who don’t.
ANYWAY! From pages 19-20:
“Not a tear for Diana,” one of the tabloid newspapers had put in a rude caption beneath the photo, “but we all blubbed buckets for Britannia.” “To blub” was a verb Shirley had heard The Queen use before. It was one of those unusual words, not unlike her monogrammed drawers, that had an Old World feel to them.”
Princess Diana died on 8/31/1997 and The Royal Yacht (HRY) was retired in December of the same year. (Personally, I think the royals were also mourning Diana – they truly didn’t expect the tears and they were about a whole lot of things.)
The action begins when Luke checks on The Queen and finds her missing from her sitting room. It’s raining slightly – a kind of sleety rain. She’s wandered off!
I think the Queen’s trip to Leith represents a trip back to her own past, maybe the past of England. En route she meets and interacts with people, something she is profoundly well trained for doing. Afterwards she reflects and I think she’s better for her little adventure – and I know those who chased her down were –
Anne – an aging lady-in-waiting
Shirley – an aging dresser for Mrs Queen
Luke – a young new equerry to The Queen
William – an aging butler (at least middle age)
Rebecca – a young horse keeper for The Queen
Rajiv – poet, student, cheese salesman and part-time paparazzo,
A couple more links to photos:
The Royal Mews: http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/royalmews