Friday, June 12, 2009

You'll Find Out What the Rules Are When You Break One

A few days ago I was reading an online interview with the audio book narrator Barbara Rosenblat where she said that the funniest book she had ever narrated was The Queen and I by Sue Townsend ("sitting in the studio with tissues all over the place, laughing myself hysterical"). Naturally, I was anxious to listen to this laugh-fest, so I was excited to see that my public library had a copy. I just finished listening to it, but there wasn't one laugh to be had! I'm actually a bit confused as to why this would be considered a "funny book," but since it is from 1992, perhaps the memory of the actual story has faded a bit from Rosenblat's mind.

The story is entertaining enough, just not funny. From the high praise, I was expecting a laugh-out-loud experience -- something in the neighborhood of Bill Bryson or Janet Evanovich. There wasn't anything of the sort. The story is about what happens to the members of the British Royal Family when a Republican government (as in, they want a Republic -- nothing to do with the U.S. brand of Republicans) is elected in Great Britain, and the monarchy is abolished. All of the royals are turfed out to public housing projects to live on welfare.

The royals are suddenly confronted with confounding problems like how to open a tin can, how to dress oneself, and where one obtains toilet paper when it runs out. Prince Phillip immediately takes to his bed in a fit of depression/bad tempered sulk. The Queen Mother hits it off with her elderly West Indian neighbor, but even more with the neighbor's son, who helps her to place bets on the horses. Princess Anne takes up with Spiggy, the carpet fitter. Prince Charles grows a ponytail, pines for his plus-sized middle-aged next door neighbor, and potters about in the garden. The queen's favorite Corgi, Harris, takes up with the local mongrels and begins to behave like a delinquent.

Meanwhile, it is left to the queen to attempt to keep everything going, look after her increasingly erratic dog and husband and to try to feed everyone on a pocket of rapidly dwindling pence. Aside from the queen's money worries, most of the royals are more than happy to be freed from public scrutiny and official duties. Only the chain smoking Margaret seems a bit put out at her new situation.

The story worked quite well, and (aside from Prince Phillip), seemed quite sympathetic to the royal family. It just wasn't funny.

Final Verdict for the Queen and I: Two Gherkins, for being a pleasant enough re-imagining of the royal family, if a disappointment on the humor front

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