Bloomsbury, £14.99. Order for £13.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Abdication, By Juliet Nicolson
Wednesday 20 June 2012
Juliet Nicolson has written two respected history books before this, her fictional debut. Abdication, based in 1936, is exhilaratingly rich in period details. This was the momentous year in which the Prince of Wales became King Edward VIII, his affair with the married and divorced Wallis Simpson became public, and Hitler's invasion of his neighbours was leading inexorably towards world war.
The story centres around 19-year-old May, who arrives in England from Barbados. May becomes chauffeuse and secretary to Philip Blunt, government Chief Whip. Her work includes ferrying Blunt's wife's god-daughter Evangeline around to visit her old schoolfriend, Wallis. May learns that Wallis's affair with Edward has to be kept secret. Neville Chamberlain is coaxed by Hitler into a policy of appeasement, but Edward and Wallis seem actively friendly towards the Nazis. Meanwhile, May falls for Julian, a politically aware friend of Blunt's hedonistic son. Will the difference in social status allow this relationship to bloom?
Although the plot engages from the start, early mentions of May's beauty, and slapstick anecdotes about Evangeline's heft, seem trite. Personalities are the intriguing aspect here, and better shown through speech and action. However, Nicolson adds depth by elucidating the dysfunctional relationships: Evangeline's mother was emotionally abusive and May's father sexually so. Illuminating the complexity of family bonds is one of her many strengths. Julian is repelled by his social-climber mother's shallow avarice, while Mrs Blunt is devastated by the death of one sister and indifferent to another.
Nicolson brings Edward and Wallis's relationship to vivid life, artfully conveying Edward's infatuation and Wallis's brittle social-butterfly charm. Fascinating facts are more riveting than any fiction: the cuckolded Ernest Simpson's long tolerance of his wife's infidelity; his final escape into the arms of Mary, an old schoolfriend of Wallis's, and the planted evidence of his infidelity in order to procure divorce.
Myriad historical facts and luminaries of the day embellish the story. Abdication would make a stunning adaptation for the BBC.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
Best underrated Christmas movies from Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga