Friday, 18 January 2013

A Very Bad Book And a Very Good Book

Same book.

This is not so much a book review as a lesson, as the book is quite old, and you are very unlikely to read it.

It's The Queen and I by Sue Townsend. I was familiar with Sue's work, as she had written the Adrian Mole books, which were a runaway success in Britain in the 1980s, later becoming radio and stage plays, then a fantastic TV series, and there was even talk of a film at one point.

So, I saw this book at my favourite online used bookstore, and read the blurb, which described it as hilarious.

Three chapters in I was still waiting to be even mildly amused. Halfway through the book I very nearly gave up on it altogether.

The premise is that in 1992, instead of John Major winning the general election, and continuing as PM, an extreme left-wing government is voted into power, and turns Britain into a republic. The royal family are ousted and sent to live on a rough council estate. The book explores how they cope in this unlikely scenario, and especially their relationships with their neighbours.

It's not deep sociological literature. But suddenly, when you least expect it, the story, which stretches the imagination to a point I normally have no patience with, becomes very,very thought-provoking indeed. It sort of creeps up on you. If you found it funny, then this is the twist. If it just left you wondering why you bought it, as I was, this was the payoff.

If anyone is interested, being old and not as famous as her other work, it's easy to pick up for very little. I paid $2. I think it's worth that of anyone's money, but I'm fairly sure it's not a mainstream taste, even with the promise of the payoff.

What it told me, loud and clear, is that I must not judge too quickly. I started out hating it and ended up loving it. How many more books have I missed out on because the beginning was dull? Maybe I should give Mazo de la Roche another chance.

I think Sue got away with it because of her track record, and the premise being delicious. There was a lot of dissatisfaction among the people at the time of publication, and a republic might have looked appealing. Probably still does. I'm still curious as to the hilarity aspect. Matter of taste, of course.


  1. Interesting..I'm sure I'd read it.. I did read almost everything Mazo de la Roche wrote when I was much younger. My grandmother collected her books and as soon as she was done reading one, I'd scoop it up.

    I actually went back and reread a few, now that I live in the area of "Jalna".

    1. I have all of them. But I tried to read a couple and couldn't even finish the first chapter. I really must try again.

  2. I read it years ago and did think it was hilarious!

    1. You were in the majority apparently. It must be me.

  3. I read it when it first came out and thought it funny. I really liked it but I agree with you she only got away with it because of her earlier sucess.