The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross

read by William Shawcross and Sophie Roberts

At something in excess of 1,100 pages, this 'official biography' holds few surprises and is, inevitably, far from the 'revelatory royal biography' its publishers proclaim. So, an abridged audiobook version of William Shawcross's labour of duty, if not of love, is definitely to be welcomed.

The problem with an official biography is that the writer is under an obligation to pen more a celebration than a thorough-going analysis. That will have to wait until some of the principals are themselves no more - the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles, perhaps. One feels that, for example, more can be revealed concerning the Duke and Duchess of Windsor - the true feelings, perhaps, of the other royals to this unhappy episode. For a more-modern generation, the Queen Mother's close relationship with Princess Diana could reveal some unwelcome truths, although we are led to believe that all their correspondence was destroyed by or on the advice of the Queen Mother's second daughter, the late Princess Margaret.

The life of the former Elizabeth Bowes Lyon certainly spans some of the most interesting recent history of the erstwhile British Empire and of the rest of the world. The Queen Mother's place was centre stage in the dismantlement of Empire, which followed quite naturally from the disastrous world wars for which she would never forgive the German people. But the Queen Mother's one hundred years saw such a seismic shift in the political, social and educational make-up of the world that the social historian is going to find this account so much more interesting than the constitutional historian.

There is always something to be gained from having an author read his or her own work. And William Shawcross reads the ten hours of this recording with a reverent, slightly monotonous delivery, employing some startlingly un-English pronunciations ('harrassment' and 'aristocrat', for example), which, it might be imagined, would have horrified the Queen Mother. Perhaps these were insisted upon for the American market.

Sophie Roberts, on the other hand, is unimpeachable.

Full of poignant memories for those who lived through just a little or even most of the Queen Mother's life, and a great way to get through this baggy monster.

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© 2009 AudioBooksReview