Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Abdication by Juliet Nicolson

I intended to post this last week before its publication, but I have been very busy doing a combination of being ill and volunteering with the IET's rare books collection which was epic. My next review will be of the Obsidian and Blood trilogy, which has taken me a little time to read through (after breaking off reading one historical fiction epic I moved on to another...) but which I have greatly enjoyed.

Abdication follows the story of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson as seen through the eyes of one of Wallis's close friends and the chauffeur of a politician. Although I enjoyed reading it, it seemed in many ways to be a re-hash of similar stories, I particularly thought of the Upstairs, Downstairs Christmas episodes from a few years ago. I suppose that is a difficulty of writing historical fiction about well-known events, but I felt that Abdication didn't really add anything to the story, or offer a particularly interesting perspective.
I liked May, the politician's chauffeur and one of the main characters, even though she is a bit on the perfect side. I enjoyed the descriptions of her and her family, both in Barbados and in the East End and I wish that the story arc had concentrated more on her. One thing about her really grated on me [SPOILER]: I found the heavily signposted dramatic reveal of her parentage to be hammy and completely unnecessary. It seemed almost wedged in at the end. I suppose it could be argued to contribute to the book's overall theme of power - May's "father" taking all the power away from her mother - but it seemed pointless to me.
I didn't like the other main character - Evangeline Nettlefold, plump spinster friend of Wallis Simpson. I think she was supposed to appear sweet on the outside with a nasty streak, but I just found her to be very inconsistent. I wanted to like her - a gaffe-prone food-a-holic who had, through circumstances out of her control, found herself utterly powerless. As the book progressed, however, the author kept slipping in unpleasant details about her, which didn't really gel with her prior descriptions and in the end I found her character to be a confusing jumble.
Overall this book was a okay light read, but sadly one that was riddled with cliches and inconsistencies. I wouldn't read it again, nor would I rush out and buy any of the author's other works.
Book: Abdication
Author: Juliet Nicolson
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Score: 5/10

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