The mark of a good novel, in my opinion, is characters that are believably rendered. When it comes to historical fiction, where the stories are often populated by real people, it requires tremendous skill and attention to detail to take the research and surface-level accounts of the historical figure and turn them into a seamless and well-rounded character portrayal. Like Netflix's The Crown, the following books all dip into the dramas of the British royal family in the 20th Century. They star real royals, people who have been written about a great deal, but still you'll be left guessing what's fact and what's embellishment, and eager to conduct your own research.
The Queen's Secret by Karen Harper drops readers into the shoes of the Queen mother right around the time of World War II. Her husband King George VI "Bertie" has recently taken over the throne following his brother's abdication, and Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret are precocious adolescents. The novel explores the Queen mother's contributions to bolstering wartime England, her fraught relationship with Bertie's brother and his American wife, and her mixed feelings about then Princess Elizabeth's new beau Philip Mountbatten. It also, at times, attempts to legitimize some pretty extreme gossip. While this wasn't my favourite book of the three, as it was a bit too leisurely paced and repetitive for my preference, it was definitely the juiciest. I won't give away the novel's revelations, but a few of them will shock readers and have them turning to Wikipedia to gauge the validity of the rumors.
The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock is an engaging story that takes readers into the glamorous social circle of Princess Margaret. It is told through the perspective of Honorable Vera Strathmore, who is a fictional character, although you wouldn’t know it. While born to nobility, Vera's family's wealth has diminished and she has turned to secretly writing racy romance novels to support herself. It turns out that a young, post-war era Princess Margaret is a big fan of her work. The pair quickly form a rather uneven friendship that culminates with Vera becoming a lady in waiting, a position that allows her to bear witness to all of the drama and scandalous behavior portrayed in The Crown.
The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull tells the little known story of Thelma Furness, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt's twin sister and love interest of Edward, Prince of Wales. As King, Edward would abdicate the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson but Thelma, as it turns out, was the first American divorcee to capture his heart. The majority of this well-researched novel takes place in the 20s and 30s and it does a great job capturing the glamorous, leisurely lifestyles of the Vanderbilts and Windsors. It was also brought to my attention by a reader of The Napanee Beaver that The Woman Before Wallis has a local connection as Brynn Turnbull's family is from Napanee.
All of these books can be reserved in a variety of formats from your branch of the County of Lennox & Addington Libraries or online by clicking the titles above.
This article was originally published in The Napanee Beaver.