Coronation by Paul Gallico

In a perfect world I would have written about this book three weeks ago. But I didn’t know it existed then. I found out that day when an email landed in my inbox, and then I searched for a copy, placed an order, waited for it to arrive, and then I read.

But when would be the time to write?

Today! You see, I went to visit my mother, in her nursing home, this afternoon, and she and a few others were settled in the lounge, watching coverage of that day in 1952 on ITV3.

It was nearly over when I got there, but I saw much that I had watched three weeks ago. The same queen, the same carriage, the same crowds, the same balcony, the same flypast. It was wonderful!

The Clagg family arrived at St Pancras station early in the morning, on the Coronation Special from Sheffield.

It was to be the day out of a lifetime because Will Clagg, factory foreman accepted the offer of a lifetime. Five seats in a window in Wellington Place, just off Hyde Park Corner. A wonderful view. A buffet lunch. Champagne. And the price reduced from £25 to £10 – Will’s cousin Bert, a London chauffeur had some excellent contacts.

The family had to think about it. Even at those prices it was an expensive day out, and their annual holiday at the seaside would have to be cancelled to cover the cost.

Will wanted to go from the start. But Violet, his wife, was a little reluctant. She would miss her annual holiday from housework, but she saw a unique opportunity and she had always wanted to taste champagne.

Her children were thrilled at the prospect. Johnny was eleven and he was fascinated by the military and delighted by the prospect of all the parades. Gwendoline was seven, she loved the butterfly princess in her storybook and she decided that a real queen would be even more magical.

Of course they went. And they took Granny along for the trip.

Paul Gallico handled all of this beautifully. The characters were beautifully drawn and the storytelling was perfect. I thought: he was there, he understands, he remembers …

I also thought that offer was a little too good to be true. And it was. The family arrived at Wellington Place, they saw people going into houses clutching their tickets. Number 1, number 2 , number 3 … where was number 4? Number 4 was a vacant lot, the house pulled down after being bombed in the war. They were the victims of a horrible fraud, and they had nowhere to go.

Now I knew that Paul Gallico was a master of bittersweet endings – his ‘Mrs Harris Goes to Paris’ being a perfect example – but I really couldn’t see how he was going to sort this one out.

Wisely, he didn’t provide a miracle. The family found themselves, cold and wet, at the very back of the crowd of spectators on the street.

They had to find satisfaction in small things. Gwendoline did see the queen, when a thoughtful bystander helped her father to lift her above the heads of the crowd. Johnny met two military men, and he found a unique souvenir. Will was proud to see his name alongside the names of titled folk in the evening paper when the fraud was reported. Violet did taste champagne, when her husband dipped into the emergency budget so that the family could have a slap up meal on the train home. And Granny was pleased that she had kept up with the family all day, and saw it as a sign that she would be around to keep her family in order for a good long time.

It was a lovely story, well told, with exactly the right details picked out. A story with a positive message and a happy ending.

But I wasn’t quite convinced. Adults may be philosophical, happy to get through the day, but would children who had been promised so much, who were so excited about their special day, really be happy with so little? Would they not be just a little bit fractious on a long day standing around on London streets with little to see and little to do?

My inner adult liked Coronation, with just a few reservations.

My inner child had major doubts.

13 responses

  1. This sounds delightful. My heart leapt when you said it was a fraud, the children, what would they remember as you say.

    I am going to look out for this book, and also Mrs Harris which has been in my Amazon basket for a long time!

    • Jo, you must invite Mrs Harris over now – you will love her! This is less essential, but still worth reading

    • It is lovely, and though I have reservations I’m not sure there were too many other ways this could have gone. A book for the right moment, I think.

  2. I’ve had this book in my library for 20 years and just pulled it off the shelf last weekend and finished it today. I have other books by Paul Gallico and so I know he is a pleasure to read. This is a very uplifting story in spite of the fact that their plans went totally a-rye and I too fell upon it just after the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen.

  3. I shared your reservations when I read this book. The minor compensations didn’t really make up for what was a disasterous day, and I remember feeling so angry with the fraudsters it quite spoilt my enjoyment of the book. However, I agree Paul Gallico’s books are well worth reading.

    • I wasn’t so much angry as shocked that anyone could have been so gullible. Why ever didn’t Bert go round to take a look. Worth reading yes, but not Gallico’s best.

  4. To me, the best thing about reading (after the actual reading, that is!) is the way we discover what we’re going to read next! I’ve just put this on reserve. And I’m hanging out with your inner child, because I just wrote about the same kind of thing in a first novel I just read — a very philosophical and far-seeing four-year-old!

    • I know what you mean – the discovery and the anticipation are all part of the joy of reading. I’ll be intersted to read your thought on this one, and to find out where you met that four year-old.

  5. Pingback: Review: Coronation by Paul Gallico | Leaves & Pages

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