Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book Review: Abdication

Author: Juliet Nicolson

Format: Hardback
Published: Atria Books; May 2012
Pages: 352
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade: B
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: The year began with the death of a beloved king and the ascension of a charismatic young monarch, sympathetic to the needs of the working class, glamorous and single. By year’s end, the world would be stunned as it witnessed that new leader give up his throne in the name of love, just as the unrest and violence that would result in a Second World War were becoming impossible to ignore.
During the tumultuous intervening months, amidst the whirl of social and political upheaval, wise-beyond-her-nineteen-years May Thomas will take the first, faltering steps toward creating a new life for herself. Just disembarked at Liverpool after a long journey from her home on a struggling sugar plantation in Barbados, she secures a position as secretary and driver to Sir Philip Blunt, a job that will open her eyes to the activities of the uppermost echelons of British society, and her heart to a man seemingly beyond her reach.
Outwardly affable spinster Evangeline Nettlefold is a girlhood friend to the American socialite Wallis Simpson, a goddaughter to Lady Joan Blunt and a new arrival to London from Baltimore. She will be generously welcomed into society’s most glittering circles, where one’s daily worth is determined by one’s proximity to a certain H.R.H. and his married mistress. But as the resentment she feels toward Wallis grows in magnitude, so too does the likelihood of disastrous consequences.

My Take: I love historical fiction and when I had received this book a few months back I knew I wanted to read it sooner rather than later because the subject matter was one that I was certainly intrigued by. While I have never really read much about the love affair between Wallis and Edward, it is a news story that still holds much power to this day. And when you combine it with the other political dramas of the time, it was quite the coup. So yes, to say that I eagerly picked up Juliet Nicolson's Abdication, is a bit of an understatement.

Abdication takes place in 1936 and is broken out into four parts, the seasons of the year. While we get a close hand look at the drama that encircles the decision of Edward's abdication because he loved Wallis, they are not the central characters in this story. The central characters are in fact their friends and people who work near them.

First we have May, who, in January of 1936 arrives from Barbados with her brother Sam to start a new life in England. They have a cousin in London to live with and she wants to find a job. She is a good driver and quickly finds a job with an influential politician as his driver and secretary which makes her privy to a lot of state secrets. State secrets that just might involve a certain new king and his twice-divorced American lover.

Then we have Evangeline who arrived on the same day as May but from America. She is an aging spinster and perhaps the comic relief of the novel because she is about as ridiculous a character as they come. She is overweight, bald, and while a socialite, not the most socially adept. She keeps what can be sometimes an otherwise tense situation, silly. However, she is a school friend of Wallis' and finds herself at parties and yachts with the new couple.

This book brought many things to the forefront for me that I had never considered before. In the past I had always just assumed that theirs was 'one of the great love stories of the 20th century'. I am pretty sure I have heard that a thousand times. But while reading this I started looking around on the interwebs and discovered that in fact that may not have been the case. It appears as though they were both born philanderers and Wallis did not really want to marry Edward and did in fact feel quite comfortable with her second husband Mr. Simpson. However, once Edward abdicated the throne, what choice did she have but to marry him? Then they were forced to live a life in exile so it wasn't exactly the happy go lucky life they had dreamt of. Also, apparently while England was totally rocked by the news of the abdication it was probably a good thing in the long run because Edward was a big fan of Hitler and was more interested in having fun and clearly the next King and then his daughter have done a great job. So all's well that end's well.

Basically, I found this book and the history that went behind it fascinating. It was all a chapter of the past that I hadn't looked too deeply into before and then once I delved into it, I wanted to learn more. I can most certainly recommend Abdication.

Cover Lust: This cover could not fit the era more! I love it!


  1. I'm fascinated by that time period in British history, though I don't know much about Edward and Wallis. Your point about them having to live in exile and much of the behind-the-scenes aspects of their romance is very interesting! I have this one in my bookcase -- can't wait to read it!

    1. I agree! Reading about this time period and their romance just made me want to know more! Looking forward to your thoughts on the book when you read it.

  2. I'm fascinated with Wallis Simpson so this sounds right up my alley!

  3. This sounds great - I am obsessed with the British monarchy and it is interesting to see how the abdication still shapes decisions made by the Royal Family today.

  4. Yours was the first above average review I've read about this book...now I'm more likely to give it a try! I love Brit-Lit.

  5. I read a few pages of this and couldn't get in to the writing but I'm hoping to try it again on a hardcopy instead of e-ARC. I am very interested in this time period but don't know much about it.

    Last comment: I am very glad Edward abdicated if it helped keep England away from the Nazis!

  6. Looks good. I'm always intrigued by the monachy

  7. Wow, I haven't heard of this title, but it sounds so interesting. I love historical novels myself. Oh no, something else on the TBR!

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. [Sorry, had to fix a typo! Let's try this again...]

    I'm an obsessive Anglophile, so I was excited to hear that this book exists and to read your review. Here's my question: I tend to get annoyed with historical fiction that strays too far from the actual events in question--is there enough about genuine historical events in this book that I'd probably enjoy it, would you guess, or is history strictly the backdrop to the fictional plot?
    The Beauty of Eclecticism

  10. Definitely adding this to my to-read list. Nothing like reading historical fiction in England when it's cold and dark out!


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