I was drawn to this novel, which tells the story of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, albeit as secondary characters, after watching the movie, The King’s Speech, which I loved. This is a debut novel for the author, Juliet Nicholson, but she is a well known and respected writer of nonfiction and has written on this time period. In the interest of full disclosure, I freely admit that my knowledge of this subject is absolutely minimal, so I was relying completely upon Ms. Nicholson’s background with her subject.
There are two primary characters in the novel, Evangeline, a childhood friend of Wallis Simpson, invited to visit, but staying with her godmother, Lady Joan Blunt, and May, the Blunt’s young female chauffeuse (that is the female term for chauffeur) and secretary to Sir Philip Blunt, who is a member of Parliament and legal advisor to Edward VIII. Through these two characters we watch the relationship of Wallis Simpson and Edward grow and become a scandal that rocks the monarchy and nation. In addition we are introduced to a rather large host of characters, among them May’s Jewish relations and the Blunt’s Fascist housekeeper. I enjoyed the variety of characters in the novel, but for the most part I found them very one dimensional, flat-no one grew as a person; several of the characters were whiney and unlikeable, or felt rather clichéd, such as the Jewish mother-in-law.
There was a fair amount of action in the novel, from political unrest involving Fascist marches and speeches, to paparazzi following the King and Wallis, to the legal wrangling of whether or not abdication would be necessary. Relationships also play a big part, but not always in the way that the reader might expect. I felt that the author did a good job keeping the pace of the novel moving forward, and this was a fast read. We all know how the story ends, but she made getting there an interesting tale.
I have not read a good deal about the story of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, but I would imagine that most authors take one of two roads, telling the tale either as one of a great romance-a man who loved a woman so completely that he gave up a throne for her, or as a tale of betrayal of a people-how could a king put one woman above his subjects. Juliet Nicholson very definitely takes a stand on one side of that fence, but I write spoiler-free reviews, so if you want to know, you must read the book!
My only complaint with the book was that the characters were a little wooden, stereotypical at times, and that a couple where whiney to the point of getting on my nerves. The historical aspects were quite well done. Overall, it was a very solid debut novel, and I will certainly look forward to Ms. Nicholson’s sophomore effort. If you are a fan of all things Wallis and Edward, or like me, you simply want to learn more, I recommend this one.