By Andrew Holgate in The Sunday Times, 12 April 2020

When the Prince of Wales tested positive for the coronavirus, his wife was obliged to spend two weeks in self-isolation. The Duchess of Cornwall turned to her books for comfort and yesterday produced a list of nine of her favourite novels. It turns out to be a surprise — and a nice surprise, too.

Royals, remember, are not meant to like books. Or even read them. The Queen Mother, for one, was always sneered at by the literati for her fictional tipple of choice — the horseracing novels of Dick Francis.

Yet Camilla has shown herself with this selection to be different.

There’s nothing too challenging here. Mostly, in the shape of William Boyd, Susan Hill and Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow, it is good, unshowy, engrossing escapist reading. Millions of readers will share her enthusiasm for Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy and Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazelet Chronicles. If Elif Shafak and Antoine Laurain sound slightly more daring, they are very much at the comfortable end of adventurous.

Our Sunday Times reviewer called Shafak’s tale of courtly intrigue under Suleiman the Magnificent “fascinating”, and we have regularly applauded Laurain’s “charmingly whimsical” French tales.

The list shows solid good taste. More than that, though, it shows a reader who is comfortable with her own choices. She has not tried to show off (even the Dickens is not an obvious one) and it does not feel like she has left it to a PR to present her in the best light (the curse of prime ministers’ lists and Desert Island Discs choices).

It is all enjoyable stuff, a little quirky, and the list of someone who clearly loves books. “When we are isolated from the ones we love,” she says, “many of us are finding comfort in reading.” She quotes Ernest Hemingway: “There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

Maybe we should not be surprised. Camilla is, after all, patron of the National Literacy Trust and regularly speaks at the Booker prize dinner.

But presenting your own choice of favourite reading for people to pick over is an exposing thing. It is to Camilla’s credit that she seems to have gone for the things she loves. Whatever your taste, we can all admire her for that.

Nine of the best: the Duchess’s favourites in her own words

William Boyd
A wartime thriller featuring a resourceful woman in grave danger… a great read.

A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens
This is a wonderful story of romantic and familial love set against the violence of the French Revolution. It is one of my favourite books by Dickens and, in my humble opinion, one of his best.

The Simon Serrailler Series
Susan Hill
Simon Serrailler, Hill’s brilliant detective, is the central character in the great writer’s crime fiction novels.

The Secret Commonwealth
Philip Pullman
I have enjoyed every book that he has written and have followed Lyra through all her trials. This book — the second in the Book of Dust trilogy — is no exception, as we immerse ourselves in this fantasy’s mystical adventures. Storytelling at its best.

The Cazalet Chronicles
Elizabeth Jane Howard
A multi-generational saga by this brilliant author of a British family before, during and after the Second World War. If I were sent to a desert island with one book, this would be my choice!

A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles
A wonderful book that gives the reader an understanding of life in post revolution Moscow, through the eyes of a Russian aristocrat sentenced to life in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel.

The Red Notebook
Antoine Laurain
A clever, funny novel… a masterpiece of Parisian perfection.

The Architect’s Apprentice
Elif Shafak
A magical, colourful tale set during the height of the Ottoman empire.

Travels on my Elephant
Mark Shand
My late brother’s tale of his love affair with Tara, an Asian elephant, on their journey across India… it always brings a tear to my eye.

%d bloggers like this: