Novelist brings a queen and a commoner together in ‘Coronation Year’
Jennifer Robson’s latest book examines the ordinary amongst the extraordinary in 1953 London
Author Jennifer Robson will be watching King Charles’ coronation on May 6, along with millions of others around the world.
Her new historical fiction book, “Coronation Year,” is her second novel about a royal occasion. It combines mystery, romance, history and detective work as the lives of three different hotel residents collide in 1953 London, during Queen Elizabeth’s coronation year.
Historical events intrigue Robson because “while I find the British royal family as interesting as the next person, what fascinates me is the way that ordinary people were affected by significant royal-related events such as weddings and coronations,” said the best-selling author, who will speak at a sold-out literary tea Saturday in Old Town San Diego.
“1953 was also the first time in more than a decade that ordinary British people were, by and large, able to look to the future with a real sense of hope. And that’s what I wanted to capture with this novel — the feeling of relief, of lightness and of possibility that the coronation represented for so many after the suffering and loss of the second World War.”
Robson’s novels include “The Gown” and “Our Darkest Night.” She has a doctorate in British economic and social history, is a Commonwealth Scholar and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow. She lives in Toronto with her family and pets.
Q: Who are your characters Edie, Stella, and James? Where do they live?
A: They’re the three central characters in “Coronation Year,” with the story told in turns from their points of view. They all live at the Blue Lion hotel in London. Edie owns the hotel, which has been in her family for something close to 400 years. Stella is a photojournalist and recent immigrant from London who is a long-term guest. Jamie is an artist who is working on a career-changing commission to paint Queen Elizabeth on her coronation day. The coronation itself isn’t the entire focus of my book; it’s the event that first brings my characters together, and it ends up affecting each of them in profound ways.
Q: Stella is a Holocaust survivor and James encounters racism. Why did you want to write about that?
A: I honestly felt I couldn’t write a book set in this period without including the experiences of people like Stella, an Italian Jew who loses her family in the Holocaust, and Jamie, a man who was born and raised in Scotland but, because of his mixed-race heritage, is constantly ‘othered’ and made to feel as if he doesn’t belong. I love British history, and writing about it has become the focus of my work, but I can’t allow myself to ignore detestable aspects of its past, nor pretend that racism and anti-Semitism do not continue to play a deplorable role in British society today.
Q: Why do Queen Elizabeth and Edie have work roles that weren’t intended for them?
A: No one expected in 1926, that Elizabeth would one day become monarch after her uncle’s abdication. She wasn’t born into the role she spent so much of her life fulfilling. There is no evidence she ever regretted her position, nor that she resented the destiny she had inherited so unexpectedly. In Edie’s case, her position as the sole heir to the Blue Lion hotel is something she embraces and struggles with in equal measure. I liked the idea of my heroine having insights into the young queen’s life that a casual observer might never appreciate.
Q: If this book becomes a movie, who would you cast to play Edie, Stella and James?
A: I haven’t considered a dream cast, in part because each of these characters feels absolutely real in my mind’s eye and have no living parallel who could compare. It’s for that reason as much as my own reticence that I avoid casting my novels!
Q: How will you watch King Charles’s coronation? Any tips for watching?
A: I will be glued to the television on May 6 and am planning to invite my closest friends over for a viewing party with tea and scones and cucumber sandwiches. American viewers who choose to watch might want to keep in mind that the fundamental elements of the ceremony, most notably the anointing and the crowning, taking place as they do in such a sacred and ancient place, carry the weight of nearly a thousand years of history. It’s something to think about: our lives are dominated by the modern, the new, the evolving and the ever-changing, but this ceremony has endured for close to a millennium. Like it or loathe it, believe in it or deplore it, nonetheless, it is something to behold.
“Coronation Year” by Jennifer Robson (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2023; 400 pages)
Adventures by the Book presents Coronation Year: A Literary Tea Adventure
When: 3 p.m. Saturday, April 8 (11:30 a.m. event sold out)
Where: Coral Tree Tea House, 2490 Heritage Park Row, Old Town San Diego
Phone: (619) 300-2532
Robson is a freelance writer.
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