cover image The Queen and I

The Queen and I

Sue Townsend. Soho, $22 (239pp) ISBN 978-0-939149-97-1

Townsend, author of the phenomenally successful Adrian Mole books, here brings off an audacious notion with considerable elan. She imagines a Britain where an unforgiving, newly elected Republican Party decides that the entire Royal Family must learn to live like other Britons--or in their case, like desperately poor lower-class Britons on a hideous housing estate in a provincial city. A notable farceur, Townsend has terrific fun imagining how they would cope: the Queen buckles down sturdily, mindful of stiff-upper-lip duty; Prince Philip goes to pieces and takes to his bed; Margaret remains a royal pain, perpetually and irritably in search of a cigarette; Diana haunts thrift shops for designer castoffs and snares a flashy West Indian boyfriend; Charles, infatuated with a zaftig neighbor, gets involved in a brawl and is jailed , while his organic garden goes to pieces; Anne copes stolidly, much helped by the gift of a horse--and the Queen Mum, never quite aware of what is happening, dies peacefully in her little bungalow, and has a splendid horse-drawn funeral in a home-made coffin. Meanwhile Harris, the Queen's corgi, runs wild with a pack of mongrels. The book is uproarious and touching by turns, with a perfect eye and ear for the class gulfs in Britain and the appalling lot of those at the bottom of the heap. Only a silly throwaway ending disappoints--but how else to end such a cautionary tale? This was a huge seller in Britain, and should delight all royalty addicts here too. (Sept.)