The Queen is having one of those days we all face, a day where she is vaguely down and can't decide what she wants to do with herself so she chooses to start with her horses, visiting the royal Mews and speaking with a stable hand, Rebecca, who notices that Her Majesty is not dressed for the weather and subsequently gives the Queen her own hoodie, emblazoned with a skull on the back. It is in this completely out of character clothing that the Queen is not recognized by some workers, giving her the idea that she could take a small trip to other spots that have given her pleasure long ago. And so she heads out without so much as a by your leave to anyone at the palace. Interspersed with the Queen's unusual peregrinations, are woven the stories of several of her staff, those who will form a tense and worried alliance as they set out to find HRH. These include Rebecca, the stable hand in the Mews whose hoodie the Queen is wearing on her walkabout and who, like some of her charges, is spooked by people and only at ease with animals; Rajiv, a clerk at a local cheese shop who has hired on occasionally for events at the Palace and who has snapped undercover photos of the Queen to later sell to the tabloids; the Queen's equerry Luke, who is a decorated young veteran still grappling with a terrible loss in the war; William, one of the butlers to the Queen, a man to whom his job is a calling and who takes immense pride in doing it well even if it means that his life outside his work is a lonely one; the Queen's dresser, Shirley, who followed her mother and grandmother into service at the palace and who harbors a real affection for the Queen, and Lady Anne, one of the Queen's ladies in waiting who accepts these opportunities at the palace in order to supplement her very meager widow's income and whose son has long been estranged from her.
The stories of each of these very different people come out in flashbacks and ruminations as the story progresses and they follow the Queen to Edinburgh, learning more about each other and delving beneath the surface impressions to the real core of the person beneath. And the Queen on her walkabout has the chance to interact with regular British people from all walks of life beyond the well-scripted engagements, openings, and events on her social calendar. She learns some uncomfortable truths about the monarchy and the vision of what it means to a modern day Britain, leading her to wonder if she can fit into the modern world, one of baffling computers and technology, or if she's as much a relic of times past as the royal train (now on the chopping block) and the Britannia (simply a tourist attraction). In addition to the question of the place of the monarchy in today's world, the varied people in the Queen's employ and those she encounters during her incognito journey highlight many other prevalent social issues as well: racism, gay rights and homophobia, poverty--genteel and otherwise, animal rights, etc. Kuhn has done a marvelous job weaving all of these together into a delightful and charming read without negating their import. There's a real depth of heart here in this lovely novel. Anglophiles will love it as much for the look into upper and working class realities as for the humanizing view of one of the world's longest reigning monarchs.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.