This is a long, important and remarkable book about a long, important and remarkable life. Do not read it for revelations because there aren't any. Read it for the charm and gently ironic wit of a strong-willed woman who knew everyone who mattered in 20th-century Britain. This book does not force us to change our understanding of the Abdication Crisis or the monarchy's role during the Second World War, but it is crammed with interesting information and delightful quotations from the Queen Mother's letters, or at least as much of them as survived Princess Margaret's ruthless auto-da-fé of her correspondence.
The Queen Mother was an Edwardian who grew up in a time when it was improper for a lady's back to touch her chair at mealtimes. She went to only one supermarket in her life (Sainsbury's on the Cromwell Road). She proudly described herself as an "anti-feminist", believing it was "a crime for women to take jobs that men can do as well".
Political incorrectness suffuses this book. Although the Queen Mother was taught by a German Jewish governess, Käthe Kübler, her time tending the wounded at Glamis Castle and the death of her adored brother Fergus during the Great War left her hating "the unspeakable Hun". Of the French she wrote: "I like their sense of humour — it's so delicious, and yet, how can one trust them?" Some of her letters display a poetic sensibility, which might explain her friendship with Ted Hughes.