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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Queen and I

. . .is a book I just finished reading. It's by Sue Townsend, the author of the Adrian Mole books, which are also excellent. Anyway, the back cover promises that it's "laugh-out-loud funny", and in a way it is, but only someone who has never known poverty could miss the whole other point of the book.

The premise is that the monarchy has been abolished and the royal family is sent to live on a council estate. That would be the British equivalent of, I don't know, low income housing in the nastiest part of Surrey, minus the culture and charm. They also have to live on the state benefits -- ie below poverty line, and they can't sell any of their stuff. So they are doing weird things like cutting priceless Persian rugs to fit their tiny rooms, and drinking the cheapest tea out of the best china.

It's amazing how Townsend gets into the psyche of the Queen in such a bizarre scenario and does it so realistically. It's a totally surreal circumstance but treated almost completely straight. The Queen goes through all the sadness, frustration and degradation of a regular poor old woman, and it's all the more melancholy because of what she has lost. But here's the weird thing -- you find yourself sort of rebelling and saying "But you can't expect the Queen to live that way! It's not possible!" But, you realize, she is a human being, no more and no less. So are all the people who really do live that way. Why is it fine for them and not for her, when it comes right down to it? Why should any old lady have to choose whether she has tea to drink today or tomorrow, because she can't afford both? Have to walk miles to the welfare office, because if she takes the bus she won't be able to have bread for the morning? At one point the Queen is trying to decide between Smarties and a Fry's Chocolate mint, and wonders at how she never needed sweets when she was rich, and now she has a strange craving for them. That is so true, and I know why that is -- it's a tiny taste of luxury. It's a little trick you can play on yourself: see, here is something sweet. Everything is going to be alright.

Anyway, a good read; very funny and very sad, just like life.

1 comment:

RW said...

I shall take your recommendation under consideration.