Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Queen and I (Sue Townsend)

--The blurb--
"The Monarchy Has Been Dismantled; When a Republican party wins the General Election, their first act in power is to strip the royal family of their assets and titles and send them to live on a housing estate in the Midlands. Exchanging Buckingham Palace for a two-bedroomed semi in Hell Close (as the locals dub it), caviar for boiled eggs, servants for a social worker named Trish, the Queen and her family learn what it means to be poor among the great unwashed. But is their breeding sufficient to allow them to rise above their changed circumstance or deep down are they really just like everyone else?"

--The review--
The ordinary and the extraordinary collide in Sue Townsend's 1992 novel as the Royal Family are ejected from their regal home and moved into council housing on a Midlands estate. The juxtaposition of the country's ex-rulers with the cast of chavdom is naturally amusing in itself, and yet it is not pejorative: even if we, as readers, are so very far away from the classes of people that are depicted, the jibes are good-natured rather than malicious and the focus is on ways in which the novel's characters are alike, not on ways in which they are different. However, the Royal Family's integration is also realistic: rather than fusing the two sub-cultures immediately, the development of how the Royals settle in and adapt to their surroundings is realistically crafted and layered. While the characters are dated, this is easily compensated for by the fact that so many of the situations and settings in which they find themselves are so scarily relevant today.

Townsend also writes very wittily, and given that this is arguably funnier than the Adrian Mole series, everyone should take a look for this alone (regardless of whether or not Adrian Mole is your sort of thing). Perhaps more importantly, The Queen and I is not just an amusingly-written and skilfully-crafted class commentary but is also enjoyable and satisfying as a story for its own sake (you don't have to be interested in the monarchy or politics; from this vantage point, the Royal Family becomes very accessible). However, I wouldn't recommend reading the book's final page - it serves only as a complete cop-out and while I won't say how, I will say that if one of my GCSE students ended a story this way it would be sent back with lots of red pen on it (as one Amazon reviewer put it: "Dude, where's my ending?!"). Nevertheless, The Queen and I is a lesser-known Townsend work that is definitely worth reading. With perhaps the exception of some of the later Adrian Mole instalments, Townsend has proved herself continually to be a solid, reliable writer who can deliver high-quality works that people enjoy reading. Let's just hope that when I get to the sequel to The Queen and I, Queen Camilla, which was released in 2006, it will not only adhere to the high quality standards that Townsend has led us to expect thus far, but also that its ending will be far less bathetic.

Other works by Sue Townsend
the Adrian Mole series, 1982 onwards
Rebuilding Coventry (1988)
Ghost Children (1997)
Number Ten (2002)
Queen Camilla (2006)

1 comment:

Gillian said...

I think I will gve this one a go Bianca.