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Saturday, 25 July 2015

Sue Townsend - Queen Camilla

Review written and read live on the bookshow by Ro Bennett 23rd July 2015

I hadn’t planned to review this book this week, but coincidentally I have been listening to it via the library One Click Audio Service. I haven’t finished the book yet, but had already started to listen before I heard about the Royal Visit on Tuesday so since it is so topical I thought I would review it today. 

I was ambivalent about this novel because of the title and was worried that it might be a bit tasteless. However I decided to give it a go as it sounded light hearted and funny and I like to listen to books which make me smile when I am doing housework chores. I have liked some of Sue Townsend’s previous books, especially the Adrian Mole books and I thought, ‘Well I can always delete it if it’s awful”. 

I didn’t realise that this is a sequel to the book The Queen and I, which was written in 1992 and was an outlet for her republican sentiments. Queen Camilla was written in 2006, so they’re not recent publications. Nonetheless  the author’s perspectives on political issues are still relevant and very astute.

Neither did I realise that Sue Townsend died in April last year aged 68. 

When a Republican party wins the General Election, their first act in power is to strip the royal family of their assets and titles and send them to live on a housing estate in the Midlands.

Exchanging Buckingham Palace for a two-bedroomed semi in Hell Close (as the locals dub it), caviar for boiled eggs, servants for a social worker named Trish, the Queen and her family learn what it means to be poor among the great unwashed. But how have they survived the past thirteen years, as England became an increasingly unhappy and fearful place.  Prince Charles has been living quietly on the bleak council estate with his wife and love of his life, Camilla. He enjoys gardening and poultry keeping while Camilla spends her days doing as little as possible. But life is about to change... Charles refuses to follow his destiny unless his wife can be Queen - and public opinion suggests the people would rather have Jordan than Camilla on the throne. But no sooner has Prince William offered himself as the next monarch, than one Graham Cracknall of Ruislip emerges - claiming to be Charles and Camilla's secret love child, and therefore the rightful heir to the crown…

The Flowers Exclusion Zone (FEZ) where the Royals have been sent is an open prison in all but name, the residents are electronically tagged, their every move recorded. It’s an eclectic mix of criminals, druggies, parasites, the hardworking exploited and impoverished, the morbidly obese  and anyone the government consider persona non grata or a threat - 40% of the population.

Prince Philip has had a stroke and now lies in a care home almost forgotten. The Queen goes to visit daily but the nurses are absent, not paid well enough to risk their backs lifting him to change the sheets, or too rushed or too indifferent and very understaffed. So when the Queen and her family are confined to house arrest, Philip ends up with no care apart from a man in a wheelchair who can't get near enough to the bed to give him food or even some water. Considering this was written in 2006, it’s dreadful because this is just what is happening in some care home, somewhere today.

There is also a Big Brother style surveillance system and an all-pervasive computer called Vulcan which knows what you bought last and what music you like, but occasionally makes dreadful errors and puts two million pounds in someone's bank account by mistake or sends death certificates to all the pensioners.  Very reminiscent of the Internet today! Whenever I go online there are adverts of items I have recently looked at or bought recently, so that is spookily accurate too. 

So, although a light and funny read, it’s also a perceptive social statement. It’s a credit to our country that such a book, even in its mocking of our traditions and highlighting social ills and mocking the hypocrisy in the government and satirically portraying different aspects of society can be written and enjoyed, and no one is threatened, imprisoned, stoned or beheaded.

The narrator is Patricia Gallimore and she is absolutely excellent. She mimics the Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla really well and also has amazing different accents for the other characters, really making them come to life. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. 

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