It's oddly reassuring to know that after 20 years spent editing The Guardian
Peter Preston is incapable of separating fact from fiction--or indeed, past from present from future. His second novel, Bess
, following the successful 51st State
, takes its lead from the 1990s premier soap opera, the Royal Family, and mischievously spins its web into the next century. The results are riveting.
Much is the same. "New" Labour holds the reins and is squeezing tight on what's left of the royals' privileges. But when the king dies and young Bess, third in line to the throne, is swept to power in a backstage coup, it all goes wrong. With Elizabeth III in place, no longer can the government be sure that the Windsors will lie down and take it, pouting with the stiffest of upper lips. Preston is a skilful writer, forcing the reader to be drawn into his complex plot before letting on what's going on--by the time you're on top of it, you're hooked, and dragged inexorably towards the cataclysmic climax. And hardly hidden by the maelstrom of his witty, pacy creation, there is at heart a serious pondering of the vexed relationship of government to crown, by one of the most informed cultural spectators of his generation. --Alan Stewart