Wednesday, September 28, 2016
April, 1897: A young nanny arrives at Sandringham, ancestral estate of the Duke and Duchess of York. She is excited, exhausted—and about to meet royalty. . . . So begins the unforgettable story of Charlotte Bill, who would care for a generation of royals as their parents never could. Neither Charlotte—LaLa, as her charges dub her—nor anyone else can predict that eldest sons David and Bertie will each one day be king. LaLa knows only that these children, and the four who swiftly follow, need her steadfast loyalty and unconditional affection.
But the greatest impact on Charlotte’s life is made by a mere bud on the family tree: a misunderstood soul who will one day be known as the Lost Prince. Young Prince John needs all of Lala’s love—the kind of love his parents won’t…or can’t…show him.
From Britain’s old wealth to the glittering excesses of Tsarist Russia; from country cottages to royal yachts, and from nursery to ballroom, Charlotte Bill witnesses history. The Royal Nanny is a seamless blend of fact and fiction—an intensely intimate, yet epic tale spanning decades, continents, and divides that only love can cross. -- William Morrow
A few weeks ago, my book club discussed THE ROYAL NANNY by Karen Harper. I wrote a brief recap of our meeting here but promised to share my thoughts at a later time. Well, now's that time. I am pretty sure everyone in my book club enjoyed THE ROYAL NANNY more than I did. It's not that there is anything wrong or inherently bad about this novel. I just never would have picked it up in the first place -- it wasn't my first or even second choice.
And that's the beauty of book clubs. One of the reasons I started a book club was the hope that it would push my to read novels outside of my comfort zone -- or my normal reading fare. And that's exactly the case with THE ROYAL NANNY. Everyone in my book club seemed to like this novel so it was interesting to see the book through their eyes.
THE ROYAL NANNY is actually based on a real character named Charlotte Bill, known to the royals as LaLa. In 1897, she joined the British royal family as their nanny and decided to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of the children. The children's parents weren't exactly hands on, and Charlotte had to provide love, support, discipline, and more. Keep in mind she was preparing the future kings of England and she took her job very seriously. That meant that Charlotte chose to put the family first over her own desire to be a wife and a mother.
I didn't not like THE ROYAL NANNY, but I didn't love it either. Having said that, I can appreciate the novel for quite a few reasons. First and foremost was the way the author imagined Charlotte. While Charlotte was a real character, there isn't a whole heck of a lot of information about her on record. I guess that's a historical novelist's ideal situation, right? She had enough details to form a basis for her character, but it also gave her a lot of leeway to interpret Charlotte's life.
Another thing I appreciated about this novel was that the story was told in Charlotte's voice. Charlotte was an interesting character and I think the book benefited from seeing things through her eyes. She obviously felt an obligation to these children (and the entire family!), and she was devoted to them beyond anything I could ever imagine. In fact, there were times that I was upset with her for giving up so much in her life. I just wanted her to find some personal happiness rather than always putting the royal family first.
And finally, I thought it was interesting in how Ms. Harper portrayed the various members of the royal family. I admit to not knowing a heck of a lot about the royals, but I knew enough to recognize some of the traits she described like Bertie's stutter and George's strong personality. I should probably note that a few members of my book club knew much more about these characters, and they were impressed too!
We found a fair amount to discuss about THE ROYAL NANNY. There is a reading guide in the back of the paperback book; however, I wasn't able to find an on-line link to it. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include love, duty, sacrifice, parent/child relationships, motherhood, arranged marriages, and loss.
Overall, I think many people will love THE ROYAL NANNY. It's a touching story about a woman who was willing to give up everything for the love of others. Recommended to readers of novels about the royal family and fans of Downton Abbey.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.