26 January 2020

HRH Takes a Break

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella
Alan Bennett
Picador, 2008
120 pp.

Mrs Queen Takes the Train
William Kuhn
Harper, 2012
374 pp.

For a lighter look at the British Monarchy, I recommend these two delightful books! Both have Queen Elizabeth II as the main character, although in highly imaginative tales with no basis in real life. In fact, HRH literally escapes that real life in each one.

In Bennett's novella, the Queen becomes "The Uncommon Reader" after she chases her runaway corgis around the back of Buckingham Palace and comes upon the travelling library or what we in the US call a bookmobile. Never having done much pleasure reading herself but wanting to be polite, she selects a book with a familiar author's name, Ivy Compton-Burnett. When the librarian tells her Ivy is not a popular author, she muses "Why, I wonder? I made her a dame."

The Queen also meets another travelling library patron, Norman, a young palace kitchen worker who loves reading. She makes him a page and then becomes an avid reader with Norman as her guide. In a series of funny events that are both political and literary satire, her reading upsets the Palace routines and her government. I won't spoil the fun of reading the book, but it is very charming.

The second book, "Mrs Queen Takes the Train", I read several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed. Reading "The Uncommon Reader" reminded me of it, however I can't really summarize the plot, so here's the publisher's blurb:

"An absolute delight of a debut novel by William Kuhn--author of Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books--Mrs Queen Takes the Train wittily imagines the kerfuffle that transpires when a bored Queen Elizabeth strolls out of the palace in search of a little fun, leaving behind a desperate team of courtiers who must find the missing Windsor before a national scandal erupts. Reminiscent of Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, this lively, wonderfully inventive romp takes readers into the mind of the grand matriarch of Britain's Royal Family, bringing us an endearing runaway Queen Elizabeth on the town--and leading us behind the Buckingham Palace walls and into the upstairs/downstairs spaces of England's monarchy."

Both of these books are fun, light reading for a long winter day or even a day at the beach!


  1. Alan Bennett is wonderful at dialogue and characterisation. I must read this book!

    1. It's my first by him, but I understand he is popular in the UK, I'll have to look for more of his novels!