A sharp bite in the backside – “Queen Lucia” by E.F. Benson

May 1, 2012 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment

Queen Lucia” by E.F. Benson, Published in 1920 

I loved this book. In fact, I have been in such a reading slump this was the perfect book to get me back on track.

Benson’s “Queen Lucia” is set in the post WWI era, in the small town of Riseholme, England. While there is a storyline here, the characters themselves propel the story forward and add the framework, so even without a clear plot the reader would be highly entertained.

Mrs. Lucas (Lucia) is the Queen of society – she holds the best parties in her Shakespearan Garden and her non-smoking Smoking Room. She determines proper fashion and musical taste – no gramophones allowed.   But she is also a wonderful fraud.  Lucia pretends to speak Italian by throwing out the occasional Italian phrase “molto bene,” she pretends to sight-read music for her guests though she has been practicing the music all morning, and she declares that she only plays the first movement of “Moonlight serenade” because it is the only part she likes, though in truth she can’t play the rest.

Georgie is a confirmed bachelor and Lucia’s sidekick.  He spends every Wednesday in seclusion having his balding head treated and getting his toupee fitted.  Georgie is certain that his neighbors think his hair is real while all of his neighbors are certain that he spends Wednesdays finding ways to hide his baldness.

And of course, my favorite, Lucia’s neighbor Daisy who passionately moves from fad to fad.  First hiring a Christian Scientist  chef (who can’t cook) to remove her bodily impurities, then inviting a self-proclaimed guru to teach her yoga and find her inner white light, followed by her friendship with the alleged Russian Princess who can channel the dead. All of poor Daisy’s fads end badly for her, but of course quite humourously for the reader.  Because as the reader already knows nothing can make you taller faster than a box of medicinal lozenges.

“Queen Lucia” was my first introduction to Benson.  His writing seems to land somewhere between P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh – it is a good place to be. Something happened to the British writers in the 1920s. They got snarky and snide and sarcastic.  They started taking much needed pot-shots at the aristocracy using their humor to painfully examine the bitter failings of society.  The result is brilliant writing that is delightfully harsh making the reader twist a little with discomfit while still being able to chuckle at the characters’ expense.  It takes skill along with a light touch to truly make this work.  It is this type of skill, without the heavy-handed ethics lessons that are so common in contemporary literature, that I find so refreshing.


Entry filed under: May 2012 reads. Tags: , , , , .

If you like ruins – “The Constant Princess” by Phillippa Gregory Apparently we all have a crazy woman in our attic – “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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