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". . .a cunning fictional sleight-of-hand that occasionally rises above mediocrity. . ."
Impeccable writing by a noted historian
May debarks in England about the same time that Evangeline arrives at her godmother’s home in London. Evangeline is Wallis Simpson’s old school friend and May becomes the chauffeur and private secretary for Sir Phillip Blunt. Evangeline is staying with the Blunts. She and May are in good position to be part of a romantic story that changed history when a king abdicated to be with his beloved.
There are few people unaware of the story of Mrs. Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII’s romance and the scandal that forced King Edward to choose between love and ruling his country.
The relationship between Edward and Wallis was common knowledge before King George V died. Juliet Nicolson, an eminent historian, puts her skills and research to work to tell Wallis and Edward’s story through the agency of two women. Abdication is that story.
Nicolson creates Evangeline, a fat, bald, middle-aged woman, as Wallis’s fictional school friend and May, a young woman fleeing Barbados and her father’s increasingly intrusive sexual advances. Nicolson spends a great deal of time described in beautiful and intricate detail the lives of Evangeline and May, time that would have been better spent focusing on the story of Wallis and Edward behind the scenes. It is in intimate moments between the king and his paramour that Nicolson’s writing and historicity shine in telling details that speak more eloquently than the beautiful wrought prose the comprises the bulk of Abdication.
It is clear Nicolson writes history with authority. Her foray into the fictional world leaves much to be desired. It was hard to discern exactly what real importance could be achieved through Evangeline’s lack of emotion, except where food is concerned, and May’s longing for romance, a desire both women shared. Neither character rises above the pedestrian, at times bordering on the comic. The scenes between Edward and Wallis are poignant and true to life.
Overall, Abdication is a cunning fictional sleight-of-hand that occasionally rises above mediocrity with wonderfully descriptive writing and precise and touching historical details.
Reviewer: J.M. Cornwell