She got by with a little help from her corgi

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

THE QUEEN’S FAITHFUL COMPANION. By Eliza Knight. William Morrow. 368 pages. $18.99, trade paperback.

I was between books, looking for something engaging and not too heavy, when the mail lady delivered an advance proof of The Queen’s Faithful Companion. The subtitle read: “A Novel of Queen Elizabeth II and her beloved corgi, Susan.”

I was hooked.

It helped that sitting beside me as I started to thumb through the book was my faithful companion, Winston, named in part for Sir Winston Churchill. Winston is half corgi and half border collie – and just as smart, bossy and loyal as you might expect from that double dose of herding dog. And some of our best friends are corgis.

Plus, I’ve long loved novels set in England, both historical and contemporary, and I had witnessed much of the long life of Queen Elizabeth II. I was always fascinated by her relationship with her corgis.

Eliza Knight’s novel gave me what I was hoping for, and more. Yes, it’s a light book, suitable for summer reading, and sure to please dog lovers. But it’s also well researched history that comes alive through the talents of an experienced novelist who specializes in historical women’s fiction.

This is the story of the girl who, through no fault of her own, became queen of England at age 25. Elizabeth’s life changed when she was 10 years old and her father reluctantly became King George VI because his brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated in order to marry a divorced woman.

Elizabeth knew that her beloved father had never wanted to be king but, despite his shyness and troublesome stutter, he stepped up to do his duty as best he could. She also knew that the day would likely come when she also would have to ascend the throne.

Then when Elizabeth – or Lilibet as she was known to her family – was only 13, England was embroiled in World War II.

The early chapters of the novel give a vivid idea of what life was like in wartime for Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret, and how Elizabeth managed to join other young women in serving her country, despite the complications caused by her royal status. We also see the budding romance between Elizabeth and dashing Prince Philip, and the obstacles and rumors that entailed.

And we see how much young Elizabeth loved corgis, starting with Dookie, her father’s first corgi, when Elizabeth was only 7.

Susan, a Pembroke Welsh corgi, was Elizabeth’s surprise 18th birthday present.  The book weaves the relationship between dog and young woman into the story of how, over the 14 years of Susan’s life, Elizabeth married her prince and started their family, became queen unexpectedly early at age 25 and dealt with all the pressures and duties of the monarchy, including intense public interest and gossip about the royals. Susan started the line of corgis that the queen had for the rest of her life.

Eliza Knight deftly combines documented history with fiction that is true to the essential story.

The book unfolds through three alternating points of view: Elizabeth’s story, told in third person; and the first-person accounts of Hanna Penwyck, the fictional keeper of the queen’s corgis, and of Susan herself, whose observations and emotions ring true to anyone who knows and loves dogs, especially those of the herding persuasion.

One of the things that made reading The Queen’s Faithful Companion fun was figuring out some of the interesting tidbits that are indeed true – Elizabeth did manage to smuggle Susan along on her honeymoon with Philip, and the royal corgis did have their own chef, to name just two.

The novel is a delightful combination of well-told recent history, the story of the early years of Elizabeth’s 70-year reign and a credible attempt at guessing what a smart, loving dog might have thought of the strange behavior of humans.

One response to “She got by with a little help from her corgi”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *