Sunday, 18 March 2012

Review: Queen Camilla, Sue Townsend

Queen Camilla

Sue Townsend

Penguin, 2007 (2006)

The UK has come over all republican. The royal family exiled to an exclusion zone with the other villains and spongers. And to cap it all, the Queen has threatened to abdicate.

Yet Prince Charles is more interested in root vegetables than reigning... unless his wife Camilla can be queen in a newly restored monarchy. And when a scoundrel who claims to be the couple's secret love child offers to take the crown off their hands, the stage is set for a right royal showdown.

But the question for Camilla (and the rest of the country) must be: queen of the vegetable patch or queen of England?

Queen Camilla is, loosely, a sequel to The Queen & I. I say loosely, because as a huge fan of The Queen & I,   this seemed to be part sequel, part rewriting, and part shadow of its former self. I am a big Sue Townsend fan, and the humour and the writing was spot on as always, but the plot of Queen Camilla, and its execution, left a lot to be desired. At the end I found myself wishing I'd just re-read The Queen & I for the millionth time, instead.

The royal family are still living in Hell Close, but this time around, the street is part of the Flowers Exclusion Zone, and Big Brother is in full force, spying on the residents and making their lives a misery. The republican government are in danger of losing the election to their 'New Conservative' rivals, who wish to reinstate the monarchy. Neither the Queen nor Prince Charles (who is more interested in his chickens and his organic vegetable garden) want to be monarch, but the arrival on the scene of an unexpected family member threatens to upend all these plans.

The book also features a plethora of talking dogs, who communicate with each other, unbeknownst to their owners. I actually didn't mind this device, although it was reasonably odd. What did bug me more was the characterisation. In The Queen & I the characters were rather more nuanced, whereas here they relied more on caricature and broad sweeps of the brush. Numerous characters were downright unlikeable.

As a fan of the first book, the little inconsistencies between the two were annoying (supporting characters changed first names, or which house they lived in, for example). Not a whole lot seemed to happen, in the end, and although Townsend's writing remained enjoyable, the book itself just fell short.

Overall rating: 5.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

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