A quick rundown… Queen Elizabeth is feeling a bit down and disenchanted. What starts as a trip to the Royal Mews becomes an adventure that she and six others will never forget.
Strengths: Definitely original, characters are all very unique
Weaknesses: I felt a bit squeamish at times – the Queen is a real person, who are we to judge what her thoughts are?
Pages: 374 (ARC)
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Setting: United Kingdom
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Mrs Queen Takes the Train was to me, both a delightful and awkward book. Why did I have such conflicting feelings? The first thing is that I started this book shortly after the ill-fated Australian radio station prank call to the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was a patient. Reading about the real Queen, even though her thoughts and actions are pure fiction in this book, made me feel like I was somewhat of an intruder. On the other hand, taking a famous and relatively remote character of the Queen and putting her on a public train is fun and original.
You may be wondering now whether you’d like to read this book if you’re not overly familiar with the British monarchy. Don’t let that put you off – Kuhn describes royal protocol in a clear and easily understandable manner without being boring. If you’re uncomfortable with reading a fiction book about a real person (me, I didn’t think the references to Princess Diana’s death were necessary), Kuhn has created some fictional characters that are unique and memorable. There’s Anne and Shirley, who are of different factions in the royal household and are determined not to like each other. But when the Queen disappears one day, they’re forced to join together before the media find out.
There’s also Rebecca, who leant the Queen her hoodie before she disappeared. (Can you imagine an elderly lady wearing a skull and crossbones hoodie walking down the high street?) Rebecca, normally of the Royal Mews, thinks the Queen has gone to buy cheese for one of the horses. That’s where Rajiv comes in – cheddar seller by day and amateur paparazzi in his spare time. Can he get the pictures that are worth millions?
Add to this Luke, a returned soldier (now equerry) and William the butler who are fending off MI5 to be the first to find the Queen and return her safely home. This book is as much about friendships as it is about a wandering monarch. The fictional characters are what really bring this book together for me. Each character has their section in turn and I couldn’t wait to read more about their backstories and how they felt about working for the Royal family.
Even though I can’t say I was comfortable reading the Queen’s (fictional) private thoughts, it was really cute reading about her trying to tweet and use Facebook as well as doing yoga! Kuhn has added some cute quirks in addition to the reflective feelings about aging, duty and life in the public eye to bring sympathy to the Queen. (You also end up thinking she’d be a very cool grandmother). I didn’t like the reflections on her marriage and Diana’s passing though.
Another thing I didn’t really understand was the pictures – of yoga poses, the decommissioning of Britannia (the Royal yacht) and childhood photos. I think this linked the Queen character back to the real Queen a little too much for me. I didn’t see a purpose for the photographs.
The plot is outlandish – the Queen making it unescorted across the country without being recognised – but it’s charmingly cute, not to mention original. The finale is sweet, rousing and leaves you with a smile on your face. Suspend your belief that this is the real Queen and it’s a fun read.