Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Queen and I

From the throne to the dole (commonly referred to by Americans as a welfare check), that's what this book should be called. Sue Townsend sets up a world where the British Parliament has been taken over by a socialist party, who abolishes the monarchy and puts the royal family on a pension in government housing.

The queen and her family members are given a short list of belongings they will be allowed to take with them. They are forbidden from selling any heirlooms and must survive on the government pension that the British underclass live on.

Watching the royal family's attempt at normalcy is not as comical as one might think. It's true that some scenes Townsend paints are out right funny, but those are few and far between.

The Queen has never realized how hard life is on the poor until she and her family are forced to go live among them. She realizes that the pension provided for the impoverished is not enough for them to buy food, or live on. Their heat comes from a gas meter that must be fed coins. Very few in the neighborhood of Hellebore Close, affectionately referred to by residents as Hell's Close, have a phone.

The Queen is a survivor. She comes to terms with the life of Hell's Close and learns to live it, almost as well as her neighbors. She's able to stand up to the government employees in charge of the pension intervenes on another person's behalf. She even manages to have a semi-state like funeral for her mother who dies of old age.

As the queen learns to live a life of poverty and Charles is imprisoned for inciting a riot (really for being just another Hell's Close hooligan), Jack Barker's (head of the socialist party that has overtaken Parliament) plans to make life better for the British working class have begin to take their toll on the economy. The British government is forced to borrow money from he Japanese in an effort to stay afloat after Mr. Barker has increased social programs.

The royal prison allows Charles to attend his grandmother's funeral. He makes a run for it at the reception. Most of the royal family has come to terms with their new life, and Charles is living on the run, when the queen gets a letter from Lebonia Tremain, the wife of the founder of B.O.M.B. (bring our monarchy back), that Edward is missing complete with a news report of it. One day later, Barker announces that the nation of Britain is now part of the empire of Japan, because the loan couldn't be repaid any other way. Edward has been forced to marry Sayako, daughter of the Japanese Emperor. Harris, the royal dog, has been given to the couple.

The queen wakes up from a horrible nightmare to her barking, Harris. The assumption is that it was a dream.

I'm a typical American. I made my way out of the country for the first time ever this September, at the age of 25. I have no clue what life is like for the poor in Britain, but from what I've seen life usually sucks for the poor everywhere. Townsend's assertions, not only about the lives of the poor, but also, about the government's indifference and absolute cluelessness to the fact that society and life are both very hard on the poor are most likely heart breakingly accurate.

The approach of this commentary, is moderate and paints a complete picture. Barker's social improvements cause the nation to go bankrupt forcing them into the Japanese Empire. This is also accurate. Social programs (no matter how needed) cost money. Money has to come from somewhere. When the expense isn't well calculated into the budget and the cash leaves the account haphazardly, it does create havoc. Think about your personal checking account. If you spent money, without knowing where to take it from and accounting for it, you would be overdrawn. The balance the book strikes is: These programs are needed. There is no way to fund these programs. Which in almost every country, at any given time, is the true argument.

The political commentary is great. If you enjoy politics or want to learn about British society, by all means read The Queen and I. The writing is flat.

It's funny in places, but not so interesting in more places! It was a struggle, just to keep my attention through it and more than once I thought of just quitting.

The biggest problem is the point of view is all over the place! In fairness, I've seen worse. But we're in every character's head at some point or another and in more than one character's head on almost every page.

Townsend makes the members of the royal family real people. People we can relate to, and even sympathize with--not people we can empathize with. Sticking with a few point of views and being more fluent in the transitions, would have created characters we could empathize with, and maybe, just maybe, if we did have a character that we could empathize with would make the book more compelling.

I chose this book for Project 52, because I attempted to read it a couple of times in the past and never finished. I knew, having obligated myself to a review of it, I would be forced to finish it this time. It wasn't a total waste. It was informative. But I recommend going to the library, because this is a renter not a buyer.

1 comment:

  1. It's also not a book I wanted to read, though there are many people who do rate Sue Townsend as one of the best. She does have a particular way of seeing the world which is her own.