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Mrs Queen Takes the Train: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 16, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“You’ll come away thinking Her Majesty, at least this fictional one, charming, caring, thoughtful and brave. . . . A delightful escape. We can only hope there are more train rides in Her Majesty’s future.” (USA Today)

“[A] charmer of a first novel. . . . This Elizabeth is delightful, slyly funny company. You’ll never look at the real one the same way again.” (People (3 ½ stars))

“Poignant and sweet, MRS QUEEN TAKES THE TRAIN is a comic study of the British class system, an unusual testament to the possibilities of friendship outside normal comfort zones and an affirmation of the humanity within all of us.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

“A delightful read, a bit of fiction (the train journey) set into nonfiction (everything else), and a sly look at how the monarchy is changing along with—or maybe two beats behind—the rest of Britain.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“A witty, contemporary story of the Downton Abbey-esque tensions between servants and employers, the young and the old, and tradition and modernity.” (

“This book is the perfect cup of tea for the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Give it to lovers of all things British. It’s also a good bet for fans of Alexander McCall Smith.” (Booklist)

“Kuhn explores not only the queen’s inner life, but the Downtown Abbey style-tensions between servants and royals, the old guard and the new. . . . Royal watchers and students of class alike will enjoy this smart. . . tale.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Kuhn’s first novel ought to find an avid readership among the filmgoers who flocked to The King’s Speech and The Queen. . . . An affectionate, sympathetic but also unstinting look at the woman inside the sovereign.” (Kirkus)

From the Back Cover

After decades of service and years of watching her family's troubles splashed across the tabloids, Britain's Queen is beginning to feel her age. She needs some proper cheering up. An unexpected opportunity offers her relief: an impromptu visit to a place that holds happy memories—the former royal yacht, Britannia, now moored near Edinburgh. Hidden beneath a skull-emblazoned hoodie, the limber Elizabeth (thank goodness for yoga) walks out of Buckingham Palace into the freedom of a rainy London day and heads for King's Cross to catch a train to Scotland. But a characterful cast of royal attendants has discovered her missing. In uneasy alliance a lady-in-waiting, a butler, an equerry, a girl from the stables, a dresser, and a clerk from the shop that supplies Her Majesty's cheese set out to find her and bring her back before her absence becomes a national scandal.

Mrs Queen Takes the Train is a clever novel, offering a fresh look at a woman who wonders if she, like Britannia herself, has, too, become a relic of the past. William Kuhn paints a charming yet biting portrait of British social, political, and generational rivalries—between upstairs and downstairs, the monarchy and the government, the old and the young. Comic and poignant, fast paced and clever, this delightful debut tweaks the pomp of the monarchy, going beneath its rigid formality to reveal the human heart of the woman at its center.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (October 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062208284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062208286
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (281 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #707,386 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I'm a biographer and historian. Mrs Queen Takes the Train is my first novel. There are certain things a biographer or a historian just can't say, but a novelist can. I thought I'd give it a whirl.

You might be interested in a conversation of Mrs Queen's recently overheard at Balmoral. It's about the baby!

The Weinstein Company bought a film option on Mrs Queen and I can't wait to see what they do with the book. Will keep you posted!

Before this I wrote Reading Jackie about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's personality as revealed through the books she edited at Viking and Doubleday.

Everyone knows about the White House parties, the marriages, the pretty dresses and the yacht in Greece, but did you know about the woman whose greatest passion was for her books? In her declining months, she was still at work making suggestions to her authors from her sickbed.

Her publishing years lasted longer than her two marriages combined. She produced both hits and misses, but publishing professionals today still admire her list. Not bad for a career she only came to and learned in her mid 40s.

Mine is the first book ever commissioned by Doubleday on their former employee and many of her colleagues talk here for the first time. Nancy Tuckerman remembered taking Jackie down to the Doubleday cafeteria. Jackie loaded up her tray, breezed by the cash registers, and sat down at a table. Nancy joined her saying, "Did you pay Jackie?" "Oh," said Jackie, "Do you have to pay?"

I've also done books on Victorian prime ministers and the British monarchy.

I taught for more than twenty years at the college and university level, where the Social Science Research Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities both supported my research.

I hope you like my books! :-)

Here's a video of me talking about Jackie at the Boston Athenaeum:

Customer Reviews

This book is fun to read.
Annette Seaman
This book had a lot of promise in the beginning but got bogged down with too many characters who detracted rather then added to the story.
Lesley Siemens
The supporting characters in this book were all interesting and the underlying story lines well written and thoughtful.
gayle banfield

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Susan Tunis TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Not so much Sarah Palin-style, but she has slipped her handlers. It started innocuously enough. Elizabeth (or "Little Bit" as she addresses herself) has been feeling rather blue. The monarchy has taken more than a few hits in the last several years. After a visit to her favorite horse, the stable girl loans The Queen a "hoodie," as it has begun sleeting outside. This unusual attire, adorned with skull and crossbones, lends her instant anonymity, and she simply can't resist embarking upon a small adventure. A jaunt to the local cheese shop segues into an impromptu trip to Scotland.

Back at the palace, panic ensues. A small band of The Queen's most loyal staff brainstorm about where she could have gone. They're determined to corral her back home before the press and public get wind of the fact that she's missing and unattended.

This is non-fiction writer William Kuhn's debut novel, and he's off to a winning start. There have been many comparisons between Mrs. Queen Takes the Train and Alan Bennett's perennial favorite, The Uncommon Reader. The comparisons are somewhat apt, and not even Kuhn is dodging them:

"'Did you read the one about The Queen becoming a reader?' said the woman in spectacles to the young man at her side. `I did enjoy that one. So funny. And of course, being a reader myself, I liked that side of it.'"

That's the sort of awkward subject that can crop up when you're a queen conversing with commoners in mufti. But actually, The Queen's interactions with her subjects are gentle and surely eye-opening.

Kuhn's story is told not only from the monarch's POV, but also from that of the staff pursuing her. These are likeable and only slightly damaged individuals.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By JudithAnn on October 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The book is told not only from the Queen's perspective but also from that of some of her attendants. When they discover that she has maybe taken the train to Scotland, they follow suit in pairs. What follows is a story about modern England, about old values, becoming friends, homosexuality, war trauma's and a lost son.

The plot is a bit on the light side and the fun of this book comes from the way it is written and from the way the characters relate to each other. A butler and an equerry partially come out of the closet that they never knew they were in. A lady in waiting and a dresser who loathed each other for years travel together and become friends. The Queen herself learns to talk to common people and about the price of a train ticket to the North.

It was a pleasure to read this book. Recommended to anyone who likes a well-written, but light and gentle read.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kristine Mika on November 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
My husband bought this book for me as a surprise gift. I immediately picked it up and began reading. I was pleased that it was about The Queen in real time and I liked the six characters that surrounded her. Using past events during The Queen's current reign, the author skillfully presents The Queen as a human being who, at the age of 80+, reflects on her life and the mistakes she has made or how she now sees things from a different point of view (the Diana years). In some ways, this makes the reader more gentle about these times and events. This also gives The Queen a real live person quality that separates her, only briefly, from the invisible walls of the monarchy. And still, (and this is the skillful part), the author does not reduce her status as a monarch. We still see her as someone apart from us but not different from us. There still remains an element of mystery about who The Queen is. Her reflections have boundaries and the reader is left to imagine on his/her own what The Queen's next thoughts will be. The six characters that provide the basis for the plot are interesting and fun. My criticism of the book is slight and should not be a deterrent to someone who may want to try this book out. I wanted to find out more about one or two of the minor characters that The Queen encounters on her 'road trip.' But, I understand the author's intent on these characters. Kristine Mika
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sherrie Bouldin on October 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover
because William Kuhn must have been looking in the windows! Based on all the documentaries I saw on the palace during the olympics, this book describes palace life perfectly. This is a very nice story - most enjoyable - and I would recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Hoepoe on November 23, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
What a delightful story. I enjoyed all the different characters and their stories, and found the whole improbable journey quite plausible! Recommended for anyone looking for a well written book with interesting characters, a London setting, and an enjoyable story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Buddy Mear on October 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
This book delighted me. The Queen (to use the accepted reference) in a bout of depression in which she questions the value of her life in service and her life to the nation tries to recapture a time when she felt happy. Happiness is not something The Queen has experienced with any frequency, an be ginning with the death of Diana, her sister and her mother within a few months of each other, the fire at Windsor and her own marriage also reduced to a required duty some chance occurrences give her the opportunity to walk off the job and travel by train to Edinburgh to see once a gain the yacht Britannia that had been decommissioned and turned into a tourist attraction.

It is amidst this change in Britain, the public despair over Diana's death and the national outcry against the monarch's handling of the tragedy, the loss of the yacht, the impending loss of the royal train, the reduction of her small fleet of planes to one aging helicopter, her inability to grasp the simplest computer skills, her own sense of uselessness in her blind agreement to fulfill a ceremonial role that no one really cared about, that The Queen uses this brief vacation from Buckingham palace to re access her own life and her role within her nation.

Elizabeth's only guide thus far had been her great great grandmother, Victoria. When in doubt, Elizabeth would consult Victoria's diaries to help her know and understand what was required of her. Her own father was nat raised to be a king and she had virtually no relationships with anyone else who enjoyed that rarefied job description of King or Queen. But the modern world had moved on from the victorian age and The Queen's journey beyond the palace walls server as an introduction the the modern world that we all know.
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