Review of “Royals” by Emma Forrest

The review is only in English 1f1ec-1f1e7

 

“Royals” is a novel by British-American writer and director Emma Forrest, published in 2019 by Bloomsbury UK.

 London, 1981. Steven is an introvert teenager, who “hasn’t decided yet” whether he’s gay or not, with a love for fashion design: he lives in the East End of London with his brothers, his violent father and his beloved mother. During the celebrations for Diana and Charles’ wedding, his father beats him and lands him in a hospital; there, Steven meets the young heiress Jasmine, recovering from an attempted suicide. The two rapidly become friends and Jasmine introduces Steven to her luxurious but lonely life. Despite their differences, the two fall platonically in love with each other and seemed to be destined to a rosy future together… or not.

 The novel is narrated through Steven’s point of view and he comes across as the most engaging and developed character: he is simultaneously insecure and confident his own talent as only teenagers can be, attached to his mother and desperate to find his independence. This is a coming of age novel, and I appreciated that the passage to maturity for Steven didn’t involve a refusal of his mother but a (re)discovery of her beauty and her potential buried under years of domestic abuse.

Jasmine is seen only through Steven’s eyes and she’s charming, elegant and damaged in a glamorous way: I admit that I often expected her to be somewhat volatile and unreliable in her affections, as it often happens in stories about people from different social classes, but Jasmine defies this prejudice, as she’s portrayed as ferociously loyal in her affections.

There’s a strong focus on parents, and the consequences of their upbringing: Jasmine’s mother committed suicide when she was younger, but she’s remembered as loving and nurturing, just like Steven’s mother, and you can see an echo of their positive influence in the kids’ behaviour.
I liked Steven’s mother very much: a son’s devotion to his mother is often portrayed as ridiculous, but in Steven’s case I thought it was endearing and, all things considered, quite relatable.
Fathers, on the other hand, are depicted much less favourably: Steven’s father is violent and resentful and only shows some humanity in flashbacks.
Jasmine’s father is a more prominent character: avoidant but unnervingly attractive, he’s depicted as a sensual and charming, but also disinterested in his own daughter, save for sporadic bursts of enthusiasm. Ultimately, I thought he was the most tragic figure of the book, well-meaning but incapable to meaningfully relate to his daughter’s needs.
The characters I enjoyed the most were Steven’s aunts, Edna and Marsha, who own the corset shop that has been in the family since 1880 and end up representing for Steven the bridge between his roots and his future.

Steven is Jewish and, even as a teenager, he’s very aware of the influence of his roots on his family: there are some very interesting reflections about how the trauma of the Holocaust is passed down through generations, influencing personal relationships and self-confidence even decades after its end.

 The story is centered around a teenage love/friendship, and how it makes the two protagonists excited, brave and suddenly confident that everything is at reach when they are together.
The 80’s atmosphere is meticulously evoked with musical references (Blondie, Adam Ant and his stationery, Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux), fashion details, and gossips about the royals.
Steven’s personal aesthetic comes across as very well-defined, which makes him a convincing designer.
The writing is engaging and blends dry humour with deep, emotional thoughts.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this book very much and I recommend it to those who are looking for an unconventional love story and the nostalgic of the 80’s era.

royals

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