I’m a big fan of the British. I like their drama, I like the way they choose to handle difficult situations (or should I say, the way they choose to ignore difficult situations and have tea instead). I love the history of the island and the way it’s shaped their stories. And I love the monarchy, despite what arguments may currently be made for its absolution. Abdication by Juliet Nicholson incorporates the best of all of these things.
The story follows the lives of two women, both of whom have reasons to look for fresh starts. Evangeline is a woman of status but of little money, middle aged, and overweight. When an invitation comes from her childhood friend to come and visit England, she jumps at the opportunity. May is an adventurous young women fresh from Barbados. She’s a born mechanic and manages to secure herself a chauffeuse position for a notable household that just happens to be playing host to Evangeline. The two make frequent trips around the country, most notably to Evangeline’s friend, Wallis Simpson who is currently playing host to the Prince of Wales.
Set primarily in the 1930’s, Abdication follows the story of Edward VIII’s decision to abdicate the throne in favour of a marriage to Wallis, a divorced American woman with possible Nazi leanings. The story is fascinating and the plot is structured in a way as to give the reader glimpses into royal life without the nasty business of putting words into the mouths of the royal family. May and Evangeline are well-developed characters on their own who face their own problems, and the business of succession is played out more as an afterthought than as the focus of the narrative. The result is decidedly Downton Abbey-esque.
Nicholson’s understanding of the period is evident. A graduate from Oxford, her non-fiction works include “The Perfect Summer ; England 1911, Just Before the Storm” and “The Great Silence ; Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age”. Her meticulous research flows effortlessly into the dialogue and atmosphere of this novel, and it should be highly recommended for anyone looking to read historical fiction of this period.
[Note : King Edward VIII by Philip Ziegler (2012) tells the true story of Edward, the only British monarch to abdicate his throne voluntarily]