Betsy and Lilibet

Written by Sophie Duffy
Review by Sally Zigmond

London, 1926: two baby girls are born in London. One becomes Queen Elizabeth II. The other girl is the daughter of an undertaker south of the river. Both Betsy Sunshine and young Lilibet, as her family calls her, have younger sisters called Margaret known for their glamour and flightiness. Both Betsy and Lilibet develop into strong and faithful women when the world plunges into World War II. As Betsy grows older, we see through her eyes the country changing through the decades. This makes for fascinating social history, full of both humour and tragedy such as rationing, rock’n’roll and the changing attitudes to same-sex relationships. Then there are the major national and international events like the death of John Kennedy, the premiership of Margaret Thatcher and the scourge of AIDS. Closer to home, we see Betsy marry, have children and grandchildren, make and lose friends, many of whom she prepares for burial in her vital work as an undertaker. I found this thread that runs throughout the novel both informative and fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever come across it treated so compassionately.

Despite Betsy’s fair-mindedness and acuity, she makes one bad decision which haunts her throughout her adult life. A lively but thoughtful read where Betsy’s compelling voice (“I should coco”) shines through. Highly recommended.