This book had been well recommended at one of my favorite hang-outs on the interwebs which is Readers’ Paradise . Trusting my reading friends there, I ordered it with anticipation and then once it arrived, duly placed it on the tottering TBR pile to sit there for ages gathering dust. I had a hankering for an epistolary novel and a royal related one, and if it could be light-hearted and rather English, that would be great as well.
Graham’s novel fits the bill on all levels. It’s focused on the love affair of American divorcee Mrs. Wallace Simpson and the abdicated King Edward and is from the hilarious (although accidentally funny) view of one of Wallace’s close childhood friends from the US. Maybell Brumby, the author of the fictional diary we are reading, is extremely funny in places, but is even funnier because she doesn’t mean to be hilarious. Others have compared her to the role of Bertie Wooster in P. G. Wodehouse and I think that is a fitting comparison – a sort of “blundering but well meaning idiot” type.
Maybell is a newly widowed wealthy lady from the bluestockings of Baltimore and has known Wallace (or Wally as she calls her) since they were school friends and Wally was a charity student at their posh school. Always having been filled with dreams of a grand life, Maybell achieved it through marriage, and then had watched Wally aim for the same thing. “Grand life” and “rich English men” rather went together as they had, much as they had during Victorian times (a la Downton Abbey), and so the book follows Maybell moving to England (at the behest of her sister who was also there) and then what happens when Wally arrives on those distant shores, meets the Prince and changes the path of the British Constitution and royalty for ever.
Maybell is an ideal foil for the canny and manipulative Wally who seems ruthless and determined to live the life of wealth and ease signified by marriage into the Royal Family. However, the path of love is not simple and as is commonly known (especially since the film, The King’s Speech was released), Wally was not crowned Queen and David (who was previously called King Edward the something) was forced to choose between throne and love. He chose love, which, according to this book, really really annoyed Wally who had much higher aspirations than living in exile with an excommunicated prince.
The names were a bit confusing at first as the royal men seemed to have constantly changing first names. Edward was also David was also Prince of Wales was also Duke when he abdicated. Bertie was Albert who was also King George the something and was his younger less well prepared brother. I did have to keep referring to the royal family tree to keep these straight and work out where the current Queen of England fitted in, but that was the only downside to the whole book.
Oh, and it could have been edited towards to the end. Once the abdication had occurred and the former royal couple were in exile, it was also the start of World War II and Graham has a great grasp of all the players, both big and small. But again, it was a bit confusing about who was who and doing what. Various equerries popped up and popped down and then there were also other members of staff who had roles. Minor quibble though.
It was very clear that Graham had done her research as the plot was detailed and spot-on as far as I could tell. (However, I am not an expert in these areas. Seemed good to me though.) And there were places when I just snorted out laughing in reaction to what Maybell writes in her mistakenly oblivious and very human way — Edna Piaf, for example, was one of these errors and Harrold’s the department shop. Close enough but no cigar as they say, and these ongoing errors were purposely made by the author and helped to make Maybell very human and real to me.
I am wondering if Graham is as hilarious in other books. I have previously read (pre-blog) her The Future Homemakers of America, but don’t remember much so may have to reread that. And then I have just ordered Perfect Meringues which was one of her back list books. Regardless of whether she is as funny in her other work, she gets a tip of the hat for being hilariously wicked in this one.