cover image LILIBET: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth II

LILIBET: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth II

Carolly Erickson, . . St. Martin's, $27.95 (373pp) ISBN 978-0-312-28734-4

Erickson, having written 10 biographies of long-dead European monarchs, now tackles a breathing royal. Hats off to her: she's done an admirable job. With a novelist's sense of pacing and a historian's love of fact collecting, she's put together a biography that is both entertaining and substantial, if unrevealing. The last isn't exactly her fault. As Erickson shows, the unflappable Elizabeth was raised to be reserved and in total control of her emotions. It makes her a fine leader, but a less-than-colorful biography subject. Yet even while covering familiar ground, Erickson freshens things up with perfectly placed bits of trivia. Who'd have imagined, for example, that the queen watches televised wrestling matches? It is telling that the most memorable section of the book isn't about Elizabeth but about Michael Fagan, the mentally disturbed intruder who broke into her Buckingham Palace bedroom early one morning 20 years ago, hoping to pour out his heart to his sovereign. Poor man—as Erickson and biographers before her have made painfully clear, Elizabeth II is apparently a woman who lacks the will to hear the problems of her own children: the royal family, Erickson writes, was "emotionally distant, the relationships between them full of strain and unspoken grievances and festering disappointments—as well as costive affection." It's a sad portrait, in the end, one not only of emotional absence, of a disappointing heir and public humiliation by family and palace affairs, but of loss of royal significance: being a realist, according to Erickson, the queen recognized that her political and moral influence have greatly declined over the years. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW . (Jan.)