Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

It must be difficult being famous. To be so surrounded by others for security and so tightly scheduled that you can't deviate from the usual and have no chance to do things on the spur of the moment could certainly become chafing, especially after years of living this way. It must be a bit like when you're young and you have to wait for mommy all the time before you could do the most intriguing things, simple things like crossing the street and other great adventures of that ilk. In William Kuhn's new novel, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, Queen Elizabeth defies the strictures under which she's lived most of her life, leaves Buckingham Palace incognito, and takes a train north all because she wants to visit the moored Britannia, the decommissioned royal yacht where she once spent many happy hours. Her disappearance brings together very disparate members of her household in the effort to locate her and keep her safe without alerting the press and her subjects to her absence.

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.

For more information about William Kuhn and the book, check out his website, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. I LOVED this book (and I like the new cover too!) It was absolutely charming.

  2. Dear Kristen,

    You took a lot of trouble with this review and I'm grateful. The plot summary is extremely accurate and detailed without giving away the ending. I especially liked your saying the novel had a "real depth of heart." I can tell I'm reading the work of another writer. With huge thanks, Bill Kuhn

  3. I can't imagine having to deal with such a crazy high level of fame ... how draining that must be.

    Thanks for being on the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.


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