A Queen on the Run
It only seems fitting that an author used to writing biographies would focus his first novel on one of the more high-profile women in the world.
Kuhn, author of previous books including Democratic Royalism; The Transformation of the British Monarchy, 1861-1914, Henry & Mary Ponsonby: Life at the Court of Queen Victoria, The Politics of Pleasure: A Portrait of Benjamin Disraeli’s and Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books, makes his fiction debut with none other than the Queen of England herself, referred to in the book as simply “The Queen.”
A reader familiar with Kuhn’s previous work won’t be too surprised that he has, yet again, worked with royalty. However, he cannot be faulted for his strengths. The Queen is a remarkable character, as independent in her mind as she is dependent on those that care for her and the traditions that came before her. She is hardly the stiff upper lip that Queen Victoria was, though she tries to emulate the former figurehead’s reign as best she can.
The story itself tries to grasp common ground between “traditional” and “modern,” specifically when it comes to Britain and its corresponding royalty.
The Queen has centered her life around ceremony, adorning herself with pearl earrings “in the same spirit that a policeman did up his silver buttons. … They indicated who she was. They were not pretty things in her ears. They were her name badge. ‘I’m Mrs Queen.'”
She has become such a monument to tradition, in fact, that all it takes is a hoodie to disguise her to the general public, allowing her easy escape from the confines of her palace and the eyes that watch her every move, waiting to assist on a moment’s notice. On a train to Edinburgh, seemingly without security personnel, she sits at a table with a blind man, his seeing-eye dog, a woman “who, by the look of her thick spectacles might have been nearly blind herself,” and a heavily-pierced young man. Even through their entire conversation, much of which was about the current perception of the royalty, the best resemblance they can see is to Helen Mirren.
While charmingly written, the book is not without its faults. Though the change in perspectives is refreshing at times, the other characters don’t have much to distinguish them from each other. William de Morgan, the butler, can be separate if for nothing else than the fact that he has placed the “de” in front of his name to appear more noble than his childhood would suggest.
That said, as a character he blends quite well into Luke Thompson, the equerry who served in Iraq before working at the palace. William, supposedly, is older and more experienced than Luke, though Luke is consistently the one with the wiser solution. The two, reluctantly together, race to follow The Queen before anything happens to her.
Rajiv and Rebecca, supporting roles to the overall story, are great additions, though would likely not be missed had they been overlooked.
As a complete work, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train is a novel that very much resembles the demographic it is written about: quite polite, with a suitable amount of drama and intrigue, and distant enough to allow an appropriate amount of emotional attachment before continuing on with the day.