For anyone that has seen my comments out in the blogosphere, I love Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris/Flowers for Mrs. Harris by Paul Gallico. It is one of my all time favorite books. I was much less charmed by Mrs. Harris Goes to New York, but still enjoyed it. When I saw this old, slightly damaged hardcover at Powell’s in Portland I couldn’t resist. I was hoping for a cozy, quick fictional account surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in June 1953. Indeed that is exactly what I got, but it was also a bit of a disappointment. Dedicated to his god-daughter, Coronation feels a little too much like a children’s book to make me truly happy. I think children’s books can sometimes be satisfying for adults but other times they can just seem a little too simple to really please an adult mind. (The beautifully illustrated Persephone edition of The Runaway was also disappointing in that way.) And as far as kids books go, I am not sure there are many kids today who would be terribly entertained by this story either. I am sure there are still kids who would be excited to see the Queen in her golden coach or to see the various military regiments on parade. But, *spoiler alert* what it would take to appease today’s children if their hopes were shattered would be nothing like the little crumbs that satisfied little Johnny and Gwendoline.
This paragraph is going to spill the pot of plot beans so get ready for spoilers. Coronation is the story of the Clagg family who have decided to trade in their annual two-week trip to the seaside in order to go to the coronation. Just picture that in 2010: a family of five giving up their only two weeks of vacation in exchange for one day–not even overnight–in London to see a coronation. They manage to get tickets to view the parade from inside a mansion at Hyde Park Corner that includes breakfast, lunch and champagne. Sounds wonderful right? It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out they are screwed when the 25-guinea tickets only cost them 10. Never occurs to Pere Clagg that that might be too good to be true. And indeed it is. They show up and the address shown on the beautifully printed tickets turns out to be nothing but a bombed out vacant lot. Now this is where one starts hoping for, perhaps even expecting, a Gallico miracle. But alas it doesn’t really happen. By the time they realize the swindle it is too late to get close enough to the parade route to see anything. Did I mention it was raining most of the morning and they were all soaked through? Little Gwenny is ultimately satisfied by being hoisted up on policeman’s shoulders where she may have (but probably not) actually seen the Queen in her carriage. And then older brother Johnny, who knows all the regiments (domestic and foreign) that will be in the parade, is satisfied when a policeman hands him a regimental badge he found in the gutter. All it takes for Gran to be happy is the fact that she will be able to hold it over her son-in-law until the end of time. Mom’s day is saved when she is able to taste champagne for the first time on the train ride home, and Dad is pleased as punch when an article in one of the afternoon London papers mentions his name in a story about folks being swindled by fake ticket scams.
I know I was supposed to feel something different when I read this. I was supposed to be charmed at how a seeming disaster of a day was rescued by small gestures and simple pleasures. No doubt Gallico was out to teach cynics like me a lesson. But good god, it didn’t work for me. It just pissed me off. I wanted serious harm to come to the forgers–like these rat-bastards on the Internet who are hell bent on spreading viruses or swindling hapless users out of their life savings. Death to them all. Perhaps not the message Gallico wanted me to take away from Coronation.