Mrs. Queen Takes the Train is a charming novel about a day Elizabeth II of England leaves the palace to travel on her own to Edinburgh to see her beloved, decommissioned yacht, Brittannia. While the possible inner thoughts of the queen are interesting, much of what The Queen thinks, feels, and does is mostly improbable. However, the staff who spend their time serving her and tracking her to Scotland are vastly interesting and probably more realistic. There is Shirley, The Queen's long-time dresser; Lady Anne, a Lady in Waiting; William, a butler; and Luke an equerry who has recently returned from combat in Afghanistan. They are joined by Rajiv, an aspiring poet, who works in the cheese shop The Queen visits before deciding to go to Scotland. Rebecca, who works in The Queen's Mews, is also swept along on the adventure. All of these people have fascinating inner lives and interact with each other in telling ways.
The narrative switches from person to person watching the activities of the pairs as they try to catch up to The Queen before she finds herself alone and resourceless in Edinburgh in the middle of the night. It is ironic I think, that The Queen who rarely finds herself alone, is the one person in the novel who does not have a partner on whom to rely during the journey. Each person finds strength and a much needed foil in his or her travel companion, while The Queen most unusually has only her own wits on which to rely. She rises to the challenge with no difficulty, but does dwell on her own connections to others, whether her subjects, her family, or her staff.
I enjoyed learning about the inner workings of the royal household, which I imagine was quite accurate given the author's background. The ancillary characters were full and as sympathetic as The Queen. While this might seem like a light tale, it really asks a great many questions about duty, family, and aging.