At over 1000 pages, William Shawcross' Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography is more heavy collectible than an actual read, something to position near a west window on bright afternoons when sunlight can play on the title gold lettering. Mind the dust motes.
Certainly very few people will read it through. Aside from its weight - the osteoporotic are advised to stack up on splints - its prose is so exquisitely formal as to garrote any semblance of breathing life. It is a words vacuum for image mummification: a relic for grazers of Majesty magazine; and a posthumous and flattering gift from the Queen to the memory of her venerated mother. That's evident from the covers, so let's keep the book shut and just savour its wrapping.
Where to start? Well, royalty's pet paparazzo, Cecil Beaton, natch. His two portraits of the Queen Mother adorn front and back: both left-profile visions of a benevolent goddess. In both she smiles, a royal heresy that won over her publics long before teeth bleaching was considered necessary. The front photo rings bells if you collect royal mugs: it's how we remember the old girl in tissue paper in the commemorative box. It's a clever resonance for the sentimental ma'am-ers. The myopic may treat the background vases as a reminder to visit the optician once again, but they should be reassured that the ornaments are indeed a little out of focus: all the better to draw the eye to the sharply focused simplicity of Elizabeth and her pearls (the body) while furnishing a sense of hinted splendour (the vases in the palace).
The pic at the rear is an "intimate" and surprisingly close-up shot of Elizabeth as pretty young Queen: crowned and bejewelled. It is nonetheless, like the front pic, a formal shot of knowing, crafted intimacy - a visual suggestion here that we're about to get personal between the covers. But not that personal: absence of any qualifying or promising text makes that clear. Here's the image - let's go with it.
Which brings us back to the front cover. The book title - which is nothing more than Elizabeth's royal title in her epic widowhood - alone is a promise that whatever revelations are made, none will dishonour the subject. To emphasise this message, the embossed gold of "Queen Elizabeth" marks the value of reverence. The bulla words "The Official Biography" stamp Elizabeth II's own imprimatur. There's no sell, no sensational under-the skirts IVF promise. Here's the monument: bow or curtsey with your debit card. No wonder Shawcross writes of being "honoured" by the Queen's invitation to construct her gift to mummy. No warts 'n' all, ducky.
The funereal monochrome of the two photos subliminally repeats the Queen's own view that the royal family is not showbiz: her instinct for dullness explains her enduring neutrality as a public figure, a dullness her mother did not possess. Now open the book and learn at the feet of a master-flunky.
Bow or curtsey