Strengths: Liked seeing the effect of the abdication on the King’s subjects; very detailed historically.
Weaknesses: No one real main character – more of an ensemble cast
Why I read it: Have been dying to read it and Bloomsbury satisfied my urge – thank you!
Pages: 359 (ARC)
Published: 2012 – will be released in Australia on 1st July 2012
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Abdication was a book I had my sights set on for some time. The book is set in England, 1936 as King Edward comes to the English throne and rumours begin to fly about his association with Wallis Simpson, a married (and previously divorced) American. This is an era that I really haven’t read much about, so I was eager to find out more. I find I learn my history much better through fiction!
The story opens with May, who has recently arrived from Barbados, acting as a chauffeur for Sir Philip Blunt. She is taking Evangeline Nettlefold to visit Wallis Simpson and the King in the country. From this early point, questions are raised. Who is Wallis and why is she spending so much time with the King, despite her married status? More of the period is revealed to the reader when May returns to the house where her cousin, Nat, lives. Nat is married to a Jewish woman, Sarah, and lives with her parents. It is here where other parts of English history are told – from Mosley and the Blackshirts to rioting.
Evangeline also has her part to play in telling the history – she reveals that the affair between Wallis and the King was kept very secret from the British public, while the American press was having a field day, printing rumours and speculation. It’s interesting to compare that today, where I don’t think it would be possible to keep anything secret due to the internet!
Nicolson deserves to be commended for writing such a historically accurate and detailed recount of this period. She entwines history with narrative with great skill. Besides the events that happened, she creates intrigue with May’s relationship with her parents and her involvement with Julian. Julian links us through his friendships to the Berlin Olympics and the rise of Hitler, while dealing with a difficult mother. Evangeline is a character to be pitied, not only for her size (she manages to get stuck in quite a few places!) as sometimes she just ‘doesn’t get it’ and her flirting with him is cringe worthy.
The characters form more of an ensemble cast – we start with May, then move to Evangeline’s point of view. This is cleverly woven, giving the reader a front row seat to the events of the day. Evangeline tells us of the boat trip with Wallis and the King; while May is forefront in the rioting and involvement of the Blackshirts. We also see things from Julian’s point of view occasionally. This is good in that it leaves us wanting more of each character!
I really enjoyed this book – so much more than just a history lesson! Nicolson’s writing, which is so intricately detailed, really brought to life the period for me. It’s not just the big events that she is skilled at creating, but little things, like what was on the dinner table – I could practically taste some of those meals! I’d be interested to read more fiction by Juliet Nicolson and I’d like to seek out some of her non-fiction titles (dealing with pre and post WWI) too!