Many words have been written about England’s King Edward VIII giving up the throne for the woman he loved, American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Abdication lays out the facts of their courtship and the swirling, chaotic times surrounding it, but adds an element of fictional characters who were close to them. The story ends with the abdication, but this is not the abdication as you’ve read it before.
It’s a good read by an acclaimed British historian who has heretofore written non fiction. Writing runs in her family. She’s the daughter of writer and politician Nigel Nicolson and the granddaughter of novelist and poet Vita Sackville-West.
The year is 1936 with the world on the brink of war. Rumors, plots and scary tales are spewing forth from Germany and a beloved English king is dead. His charismatic eldest son is declared king – the son who’s a partying bachelor. The new king’s affair with the still-married Mrs. Simpson complicates matters.
The story is told from the viewpoint of two fictional women who have complicities and upheaval of their own. May Thomas arrives in England from her home in Barbados and gets a position as a secretary and driver for a high ranking member of parliament. The other woman is Evangeline Nettlefold, an American school chum of Wallis Simpson, who struggles to find her place in the uppermost social circles.
The two women’s path cross frequently as Nettlefold is the god child of Lady Joan Blunt and Thomas works for Lord Philip Blunt. There are lords and ladies aplenty along with hangers on and all manner of characters, including Nazi sympathizers and the infamous Black Shirts. Kirkus Reviews writes, “Nicolson writes knowledgeably of weekends in the country, swank parties and the ironic supercilious posture of the British upper class. The novel rings with authenticity.”
I liked Nicolson’s details of the time period, but I’m hooked on the era of the 1930s and ‘40s. It’s interesting to absorb historical events played out from the viewpoint of two disparate women and how these events touched their lives. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that while these women are fictional, there were real people who were witnesses to history and played roles in the lives of King Edward and Simpson.