This novella was surprisingly deep. The setup was promising; the execution phenomenal. One day on a walk with her hyperactive corgis – loved by few, loathed by legions – the Queen of England stumbles across a mobile library she has never noticed before. Curious, she peeks inside and checks out a book for politeness’s sake. Her torrid affair with reading alters her perspective, routine, and relationships with her loved ones. Armed with Keats, Proust, and Nancy Mitford (and aided and abetted by Norman, the gay kitchen boy), the Queen begins to integrate her new-found passion into politics and state affairs, quoting Dickens over Christmas broadcasts and asking everyone she meets what they’re reading.
Reading doesn’t just cause her to know more or enjoy a little pastime: the Queen begins quests for literacy, cross-examines the French President about Jean Genet, and alters the way she views reality. Refusing to set down a book once she’s begun to read it, the Queen causes headaches to her courtiers, puts her Prime Minister’s position in peril, and challenges the royal court to take her seriously instead of patting her on the head and talking over her. She forces the hand of the politicians who expect her to behave. The Queen proves herself a stubborn, intelligent, highly regal woman who, at age eighty-two, finally discovers her voice and her place in the universe, not realizing until she opens a slightly dusty tome that she had ever been forced into silence.
Instead of a cute little novella, Alan Bennett created a Queen I’d love to meet. Judi Dench should play her in a movie. I’ve recommended this book to about six people. If you like books about books and uppity women, pick this one up!