Abdication by Juliet Nicolson
Abdication is one of those stories my mother might have called “a good yarn”. Set in the 1930s, it is about May Thomas and her brother Sam, who have just arrived in England after leaving their home in Barbados to make new lives for themselves. Sam joins the Navy while May is hired as driver for a wealthy politician. Staying at the politician’s home as a guest is Evangeline Nettlefold, who as it happens is an old school friend of Wallis Simpson. Evangeline and Wallis renew their friendship at a time when Wallis is becoming more and more deeply involved in a romantic relationship with the King of England. Another romance may be in the offing when May is introduced to Julien, a friend of the politician’s college-student son.
My favourite part of the novel was the 1930's setting. The years leading up to World War II are endlessly interesting to me. I enjoy reading about the political maneuvering and of course the scandal brewing in the British royal family adds to the intrigue. The author paints a vivid picture of life in pre-war England and it’s those details that bring the story to life.
Most of the characters in the novel are fictional but two of them are actual historical figures: King Edward and Wallis Simpson. I never know quite what to think about fictional stories involving real people. Words and actions are attributed to them that almost certainly never happened, at least not in the way the novel presents them. Those words and actions influence how I see those people, what I think of them, even though I know the story is made up. After a while it’s impossible to keep what you know about people from history separate from what you've read about them in a novel. I’m not sure I like that.
The story was pretty good and the setting was wonderful, but I can’t say I enjoyed the characters a great deal. For me the best books are the ones where I find a character to care about, somebody to root for, but I didn't really find one in this book. In spite of that, I enjoyed it and do recommend it to anyone who enjoys the 1930s and British history.