Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Prince of Mirrors by Alan Robert Clark

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett – author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn and other books

What We Thought: Prince Albert Victor, known as Eddy, is next in line to the throne after his father, Bertie. But his grandmother is Queen Victoria and she’s not going anywhere yet. His father considers Eddy an unsuitable candidate for future glory and Eddy himself is not all that keen. Sent away to sea, tutored rigorously, shoehorned into Cambridge, Eddy tries his best. Not that his best is ever good enough. His younger brother, Georgie, though no intellectual, has far more go about him which is just as well since Albert Edward is the king that never was.

Though his life is short it is filled with rumours and speculation. Did he attend the house in Cleveland Street where the girls are all Mary-Anns? Does he enjoy rough trade? Is he in fact Jack the Ripper? The Ripper nonsense does not feature largely in this book – this novel is a benevolent portrait of a young, dreamy and inadequate prince.

Eddy drifts through his life incapable of the concentration required for serious study and not sufficiently interested to apply himself. He is an outsider – required to pretend to be a normal student, which he isn’t, and expected to act like an heir to the throne, which is beyond him. When Jem Stephen is hired as his personal tutor though, Eddy’s life perks up. Jem is the ace face. Handsome, clever, witty, sporty, big, blue eyed and poetic, he is all things to all men. Eddy is smitten. All he wants is Jem’s love, which Jem is willing to give – as long as things don’t get physical. Jem is perfectly happy to get physical with other young men, just not the prince.

Years go by. Jem suffers an accident which affects his brain. Eddy is required to choose a wife. Neither of these events will have happy consequences. Ultimately, Jem is confined to an asylum and Eddy contracts influenza. This is not a spoiler as the endings to their stories are already in the public domain. The way those endings are reached and the twists and turns along the way are the meat of this novel. Eddy is a sympathetic character – so privileged, yet having no real life of his own and no one in his own sphere who loves him for who he is. His father is either angry, despairing or distant, and even his mother would be disgusted by his true character if she knew it. Only Jem Stephen, a man now out of his reach, accepts the real Eddy.

Written in the present tense, this book is easy to read, both funny and sad, and fascinating from an historical perspective. It is also a sensitive account of a young man who is incapable of conforming to the outwardly expressed mores of his circle and age. Of course, it is heavily fictionalised and we can never know the innermost truths of the matter, but this is certainly an enjoyable account of what might have gone on behind the scenes at Sandringham.

I received a free ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Love: Fictionalised biography with a twist.

Avoid If You Dislike: Sympathetic accounts of Royals.

Perfect Accompaniment: Boiled eggs stuffed with truffles.

Genre: Historical Fiction/LGBT

Available on Amazon

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