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The Queen: Her Life

Review

The Queen: Her Life

It’s no surprise at all that the death of HRH Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96 in September 2022 generated a vast wave of sincere popular admiration well beyond England. She died on duty, having never entertained the notion of retiring even after seven decades of service. And she exerted more influence as a figurehead than any direct ruler in modern history.

Andrew Morton’s THE QUEEN is the latest in his long string of bestselling biographies on the British “royals,” which over the years have garnered both censure and praise from their subjects and supporters (more of the former than the latter).

Known to have been in the works and scheduled for later publication, THE QUEEN instead made it to bookstore shelves barely two months after Elizabeth II’s passing. Yet --- spoiler alert here --- even the Epilogue to Morton’s 375-page volume contains no mention of it. Perhaps catching the wave of public interest overrode making revisions that would have delayed publication but brought more meaningful closure to a life that fully deserved its literary completion.

"Morton packs a great deal of interesting material between the covers... [T]here is much to commend in this effort at capturing a unique woman who will remain an enigma for some time to come."

That said, Morton packs a great deal of interesting material between the covers, pulling together information already well-documented in other books (including his own) and in numerous TV documentaries that have aired and re-aired in the sad months following the royal death. So for anyone new to the history of triumphs and scandals that have marked the House of Windsor (the royal family’s adopted surname) in our era, THE QUEEN has much to offer by presenting a generally reliable continuum of the facts, events, relationships and consequences that have whirled around the diminutive but stoic figure at the center of it all.

While there are no major surprises (Morton seems to recycle his previous work a lot, as well as referencing the usual array of ambiguous anonymous sources), there are a few relatable, even poignant details that can’t help but build empathy and understanding for what must have been at times the loneliest job in the world. One that struck me was that when she was still a child nicknamed Lilibet, Princess Elizabeth was forbidden to put her hands in her pockets, as the posture looked too “common.” To break her of the habit, all the pockets in her clothing were sewn shut. Only in her last years did she intentionally have an informal hand-in-pocket photo taken.

Although Morton does not comment on such small matters, they can reveal much to a mindful reader about the degree of control exerted on a young woman who would have much preferred to live unobtrusively in the country with her beloved Philip, children, dogs and horses.

What Morton says a lot about are aspects of the Queen’s family life that constantly made newspaper and tabloid headlines, which were more often than not rude and adversarial, even when accurate. From a media researcher’s point of view, the entirety of Elizabeth II’s reign could be captured in one headlined catastrophe after another, an impression that THE QUEEN at times comes perilously close to authenticating.

In fact, with the amount of print given to the much-reported public failings of nearly every member of her immediate family, the story of Elizabeth herself occasionally seems lost in the muddle. The brief but fascinating glimpses we get of her coping personally with major decisions, crises, losses and fears (royal divorces; the deaths of Princess Margaret, the Queen Mother and Princess Diana; terrorist attacks, national tragedies; and the like) are given little thoughtful analysis beyond what has already been reported.

Perhaps one day the inner person of Queen Elizabeth II will be more substantially revealed in private writings or other documents that contain her own words and no one else’s. But if such recorded thoughts do exist, even someone as popular among some royals as Morton has not yet accessed them.

As interesting and energetically written as THE QUEEN is, and for all his skill, Andrew Morton has not achieved the definitive biography. Nevertheless, there is much to commend in this effort at capturing a unique woman who will remain an enigma for some time to come.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch on December 16, 2022

The Queen: Her Life
by Andrew Morton

  • Publication Date: November 15, 2022
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538700433
  • ISBN-13: 9781538700433