I'll just be completely honest here, I rarely read biographies and non-fiction. But this book did interest me slightly with it's claims to be an "Intimate Portrait" of the ever so fascinating Queen Elizabeth II. I opened this book with some uncertainty as to whether or not I'd finish it, yet now I'm pleased to tell you that by the end of the prologue I decided this book was a page-turner for me. I sincerely had trouble putting it down!
Andrew Marr proves his writing skills early on, his style is direct and easily absorbed while at the same time intelligent and thoughtful. Early on in this book he takes us back a few generations, explaining the brief history of Elizabeth's family and what made them who they were. A good look at how the Queen has managed to stay on the throne even until today. I do enjoy history but I'll admit it really takes some serious meat to get me chowing down on it. This book provided that experience. Marr does an excellent job of making his point without drawling on. He captures the irony and fascination of the Queen's existence perfectly, and even though I started out reading this book already thinking she was an interesting character, I ended up much more fascinated than before.
Marr also provides a brief but complete explanation of the Queen's "job", everything she oversees and is responsible for. As an American who is thankful that we do not have a monarchy but also intrigued by the close country that does, it was very eye-opening to read about this aspect of the Queen's life. I believe most Americans are probably unsure of how Elizabeth fits into British society and what she really does with her life apart from making public appearances and looking pretty at weddings. Marr's book explains all that and then some. He even goes into her relationship with the Obamas, as well as how she has managed the majority of the time to remain passive and diplomatic among political characters despite having a very strong personality hidden inside her.
The book not only describes how the Queen behaves and endures all of her political obligations, but it also delves into her personal relationships with her husband, Prince Phillip, and her children (and then some). We are offered a good long look at the relationships that have been displayed as formally as possible for the public eye, for once offering us a side of the very human Elizabeth, albeit from Marr's eyes and voice. I found these sections of the book to be the most engaging. I was especially fascinated by the chapters that discussed Elizabeth's relationship with the prime minister Margaret Thatcher and also her relationship with the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
The chapter that covered her relationship with Diana was the most captivating of the entire book, in fact. Americans have always been presented with a vision of the "Saint Diana". Diana who was pure and humble and could do no wrong, who was abused and jerked around by the royal family. While I'm still not sure which side to believe, it was completely interesting to me when Marr provided a very different portrait of Diana than the saint we all think of her as. The author is completely loyal and praising of the Queen, though he does admit she is human and makes mistakes like the rest of us, of course. When it comes to Diana, Marr does not beat around the bush with his opinions (and evidence) that she was manipulative and deceitful. Whether true or not, it certainly provides the reader with a very fresh and unprecedented look at a possible alternate side of the late Princess of Wales. To be honest, I'm still working over these new prespectives in my mind, unsure of what to make of them...
So this was definitely a thought-provoking and informative biography that Andrew Marr has constructed. I wasn't expecting such a page-turner in this book, but once I got started I found that I was captive to Marr's words and the "Intimate Portrait" he painted of Queen Elizabeth II. He does prove his point, to be sure, that Elizabeth is a fascinating personality for our times--if not THE most fascinating personality there is. While I have always known she has reigned for many generations, Marr really drove home the fact that she has seen SO much go down during her time on the throne. I now look at the Queen in a decidedly different way. While I'm not sure if I like her, still, I am increasingly impressed by her.
I would absolutely recommend this book to those who have any interest in history and the British empire. I even think those who are mildly interested in the royal family, such as myself, will be greatly entertained by this read. While I knew a decent amount about the royal family (for an American) prior to reading this book, really I have been mostly interested in the dashing Prince William and his new wife, Catherine--much like the rest of America. I think those who enjoy biographies and history will be pleased with Marr's book, but even those who would not normally pick up a biography but have mild interest in the British royal family will also find great entertainment with this book. As I said, I was pleasantly pleased to find myself unable to put it down.