‘Queen Camilla’ By Sue Townsend Revisited

by Koom Kankesan


The Queen and I and Queen Camilla are two comic novels by Sue Townsend, the British writer famous for the series of Adrian Mole diaries. The central premise of the two books sees the Royal family dethroned and living on a poor council estate, forced to make their way as commoners. In this time, when the British monarchy has been commanding a fair amount of TV presence, it can be fun to compare fact with fiction and see how the two measure up against each other.

If you’re tired of the way the British monarchy dominated the news during the month of September, you might like a pair of novels by British humourist Sue Townsend. Townsend is more famous for her series of Adrian Mole diaries which delineated the painfully self-conscious romantic and personal struggles of an awkward Brit. Townsend took a break from Mole to release The Queen and I in 1992. In the book, a Republican party comes to power and abolishes the monarchy, forcing the Royals to live on a council estate like poor commoners.

A council estate is sort of like social housing, something akin to a ‘ghetto.’ Townsend has much fun with the kind of personalities that might inhabit such an estate and the effects of having the effete, incapable Royals rub shoulders with them. Apparently, this came out of Townsend’s predilections for Republicanism but like many people, she can’t help but harbour a fondness for the Queen (Elizabeth II). While the other characters flounder, the Queen’s resilience, decorum, determination, and stiff upper lip prevail through situations that might overwhelm a lesser personality.

2006 saw the release of a sequel, Queen Camilla; I’d been meaning to read it for a long time – the hubbub caused by Elizabeth’s death and Charles’ ascension finally pushed me to do it. This sequel might be funnier than the original. Some thirteen years later, the Royals are still on the estate and have established lives there. As the Republican party becomes increasingly unpopular, there is a push to bring the monarchy back and the Royals must contend with what life will be like if they are reinstated.

It’s always fun in a case like this to compare events in the book with those in real life. As in real life, Charles is living with Camilla Parker-Bowles (the original saw Charles and Diana together, but having affairs) and the possibility of him ascending the throne comes up as Elizabeth considers abdicating, tired of all the duties and responsibilities that went with being the queen. In the book, Charles insists that he won’t become king unless Camilla properly becomes his queen. Elizabeth tells him that this is impossible – Camilla may only be the Queen Consort, and that is what she is in real life.

Though Townsend’s politics are muddled in the book (it often comes across as pro-Royal), she does an excellent job of making her characters both sympathetic and ridiculous. Townsend has a gift for focusing on peccadilloes, foibles, and neuroses, the small things that drive character humour; her attention to detail is excellent. One suspects a kind of depressive malaise behind the humour but the best comedians often had work and dispositions that bordered on the bleak. One thing I really love about this book is that the various characters’ dogs and their personalities and relationships are established. There is a whole subplot which looks at the dogs, their communications with each other, and their reckoning with anti-dog legislation.

As an equal opportunity satirist, Townsend finds much to poke fun at, whether she’s writing about the Royals, the estate dwellers, commercial barons, or politicians. Her United Kingdom is one that is in the most dire condition imaginable, one where life is amusing at best – a series of trials to be borne. If you are flummoxed by the British (and rest of the world’s) attachment to the Queen, a relic of an extremely problematic colonial past, like I am, Sue Townsend’s two books may prove fitting fare – just the antidote necessary to purge our collective stomachs after the media onslaught of the Royal feast.

%d bloggers like this: