Title: "The Queen and I"
Author: Sue Townsend
Publisher: Soho Press
Length, price: 239 pages, $22
"The Queen and I" starts with a wonderfully hilarious premise -- what if the British royal family were thrown out of its palaces, and Queen Elizabeth and her clan were forced to live like commoners? Clearly, the pampered ex-princes and princesses have no marketable skills, so they'd need to go on welfare. Sue Townsend's sadistic scenario sends the Windsors to Hellebore Close (Hell for short), a squalid public housing development.
Once settled into their dilapidated bungalows, the royals have no choice but to adjust to their dramatically changed circumstances. The queen learns to make her own tea and take the bus into town; her prize corgi, Harris, falls in with an unsavory pack of mongrels; and the queen mother befriends her neighbor, an elderly Jamaican widow. Prince Charles positively revels in his newfound poverty, planting an elaborate garden and falling in love with his voluptuous neighbor, but his happiness is shattered when he's sent to prison on trumped-up charges of inciting a riot. (His cellmate, the prince complains to his mum, thinks that literature is "something you poured into a cat's tray.")
Ms. Townsend's book was a best seller in her native England, where its plot line must have seemed positively sacrilegious (she fudges a bit by having the populace hypnotized into an