This slim volume, really a novella, tells the charming story of a woman (known only as the Queen) who becomes an avid reader late in life. It chronicles her growth as a reader, guided at first by Norman, a palace kitchen worker she meets in the traveling bookmobile, then later by her own intelligence and natural curiosity. The banter between the Queen and Norman is brilliant, and the Queen's progress through literature is joyful and endearing. The reaction of her family and the public to her reading is mixed; her ministers feel neglected, and the public is initially baffled when the Queen asks them, during walkabouts, what they are reading. Even her dogs get lonely. It's all very very funny.
I love the Queen, the actual British queen, I mean. I suppose if I were British, I would feel obliged to have some opinion on the relevance of the monarchy in the 21st century, and all that, but as a
"Can there be any greater pleasure," she confided in her neighbor, the Canadian minister for overseas trade, "than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen."
Nothing delights me more than a discovery like that. And here's another:
As a reader, she was brisk and straightforward; she didn't want to wallow in anything.
Yes! How many times have I said this here! No wallowing! The Queen likes Anita Brookner, Joanna Trollope and Nancy Mitford. She thinks Henry James goes on a bit too much. She even likes Lauren Bacall's memoirs, which I too thought were great. She looks at a stack of books on her desk and thinks that they look good enough to eat. How can you not love this woman?
(Book 47, 2007)