Review

The Royal Physician’s Visit

by Per Olov Enquist

Read an Excerpt



An insane king, a disconsolate queen, and a too-handsome doctor
come together in the royal palace, mixing chemistries, which
ultimately explodes the monarchy.

Per Olov Enquist pens a poetic yet disturbing tale in THE ROYAL
PHYSICIAN'S VISIT, beautifully translated from Danish by Tiina
Nunnally, an undisputed master at her craft.

Set during a period of lively upheaval in Danish history, this is
at once a tragic story of forbidden love and age-old political
intrigue. Young Christian VII becomes king at the tender age of
nearly 17. Youthful monarchs before him had managed quite well, but
Christian, bright, with periods of lucidity, was so beaten in his
childhood that he retreated to a world inside his head. Cruel
punishments in his schooling often left him in a heap on the floor,
foaming from the mouth. Thrust into marriage with a weeping English
royal of 15 only leaves him more confused and angry, seeking solace
and entertainment in the company of young men and
prostitutes.

The story is equally sad for his young bride, Caroline Mathilde,
who turns her attentions to Christian's newly engaged royal
physician upon discovering how little desire the king has for her.
Dr. Johann Friedrich Struensee, handsome and enigmatic, first meets
the queen in his hometown of Altona. I is also in Altona where he
is approached by an old friend who pleads with him to take the post
of royal physician. "Denmark is a madhouse. The court is a
madhouse. The king is intelligent but perhaps…mad. A clever,
enlightened man at his side could clean up…Denmark." "Nothing
good can ever come from Altona," says the dowager queen, a
formidable enemy to have. Caroline Mathilde and the arrogant
physician cataclysmically underestimate her, learning too late what
power she wields. If only Struensee had never left Altona. His fate
was decided the very moment he did.

While debauchery from the royal men was tolerated, possibly even
expected, the women were untouchable, the fallen ones shamed and
exiled. Caroline Mathilde, chosen as a mate for Christian due to
her total lack of talents, is restless and miserable in the dank
cold of Copenhagen. According to tradition, it was expected that
she would be the mother of the throne's heir and nothing more. Left
to fill her own time, the child queen discovers a budding warmth
deep inside her body. A spark between her and the king's new
physician grows into a wild desire. Before long, she nearly
commands him into her bed. More cunning than her lover, she
nevertheless is little more than a girl herself, acting in a rash
and irresponsible manner. Had she indeed been without talents, she
may never have set in motion the events that spiraled the couple
into destruction.

Meanwhile, Christian VII, incapable of governing the country,
becomes a puppet for ambitious statesmen. With the ear of the king
so readily available, Struensee seizes one opportunity after
another to influence the laws, ultimately issuing a total of 632
decrees during his two years ostensibly ruling Denmark. His romance
with the queen might have been overlooked, but his politics, too
closely aligned with the Enlightenment, gathered the wrong enemies,
a fatal mistake. Ultimately, the doctor became his own
downfall. 

Per Olov Enquist treats this part of his country's history with
compassion and humanity. His lyrical style is nearly musical as he
strokes you with his sensual prose. THE ROYAL PHYSICIAN'S VISIT
concerns a too-short window of time, telling of a too-short romance
that comes to an end too soon.

-    -- Reviewed by Kate Ayers

Reviewed by on January 23, 2011

The Royal Physician’s Visit
by Per Olov Enquist

  • Publication Date: October 29, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1585671967
  • ISBN-13: 9781585671960