When Elizabeth Ellen asked if I wanted to write a review of Prince Harry’s new memoir, "Spare", I scoffed haughtily. Why would I, a lover of Literature, deign to read a 400+ page celebrity tell-all written with the help of a ghostwriter? Writers, I thought, must toil. They don’t pay someone else to do it for them. Celebrities think they can do everything. Show me someone who can do everything and I’ll show you a hidden team of people and/or dangerous polysubstance addiction.
But I’d just emailed Elizabeth saying, “I’ve been wondering if i can only write well when something dramatic happens lol” and in response she sidestepped my attempt at making her my therapist and instead asked if I wanted to write this review, which made me wonder whether it was her way of challenging me to write something good despite boring circumstances. So I said yes.
I knew my attention span would never get me through the book by the two-week deadline I made her give me, so I downloaded an Audible trial and listened to Harry read to me as I went about my day. (So pardon me Harry if I messed up the punctuation in any of the quotes in this review. Also it probably contains spoilers, because I don’t know how to write a book review.) I thought maybe I would learn something about how to be less judgemental, or something. My instinct was to assume he was a spoiled brat.
I won’t say I was wrong. Obviously Harry suffered an egregious tragedy in the death of his mom, and one of the strongest through-lines of the book is his struggle to accept that reality - his prolonged denial, his undying love for her, his hatred of the paparazzi (whom he calls ‘paps’ and I wish he wouldn’t) for causing her death. But as soon as he evokes moments of sympathy, he ruins them by whining.
For example, a therapist tells him she fears a part of him is trapped in 1997, the year his mother died.
“You’re calling me a child?” he says.
“You say you want truth,” she says.
Afterwards he has a strong urge to wander the streets, looking in shop windows, to process the session, “but of course, impossible. Didn't want to cause a scene.” Why not take an airplane to Africa bud?
He frequently takes trips to other countries on a whim, yet describes his existence as a “gilded cage,” an “unending Truman Show." That latter comment, though, is in some ways not far off. The paps don’t quit. Their harassment causes multiple love interests of Harry’s to scram. Even when he ends up with Meghan Markle, she gets driven to the brink, distraught that everyone hates her, feeling everything is her fault, and admits she wants to take her own life and that of her unborn child. But she and Harry have an official engagement to attend that evening. He offers to go without her, but she’s afraid of being alone with her thoughts so she joins him. The next morning, the press is clobbering her again, having found a letter she wrote, editing and excerpting it to make her look bad, hiring handwriting experts to analyze how her penmanship reveals her bad character. Harry immediately reads her their commentary. Like, what the fuck dude? She’s suicidal, maybe leave her alone?
I’m not sure if it’s the job of a book review to judge the moral character of the people in the book though, even if they’re real. This is the difficulty that always befalls writers who make fiction out of their own lives. If I’m only to judge how interesting the book is, I’ll say all the whining about the press gets very tedious. And the love story between Harry and Meghan, though charming and fun at first in all its fairy tale splendor, ultimately falls flat because there’s no conflict. He losers his temper with her once, she tells him to go to therapy, he does. Boom, happily ever after.
The book’s final dramatic plotline finds Harry and Meghan finally getting the courage to leave behind their royal duties, getting their security and money purse revoked, and having to rescue themselves financially, which comes in the form of the wildly unexpected deus ex machina: corporate sponsorships.
One of the most grating aspects of the book is the frequent use of royalty-influenced metaphors, for example when he describes memories that are inaccessible in his mind, “on the other side of a high mental wall. Such a horrid, tantalizing feeling, to know they’re over there, just on the other side, mere inches away, but the wall is always too high, too thick, unscalable. Not unlike the turrets of Balmoral.”
Or when he waxes philosophical about the nature of identity: “Each new identity assumes the throne of self, but takes us further from our original self.”
On the other hand, I appreciated the insight which perhaps only a royal person could have made, that bagpipes amplify already existing emotions.
As for Harry’s deep attachment to the public’s perception of him, he might’ve benefitted from applying the teachings he got in the army: “At night, something more than pain would creep into our bones. It was a deep, shuddering throb. There was no way to survive that throb except to dissociate from it. Tell your mind that you were not it. Sunder yourself from yourself. The color sargeants said this was part of their grand plan: kill the self. Then, we’d all be on the same page. Then, we’d truly be one unit.”
I was moved by his story of visiting with a rabbi after being vilified in the press for dressing up as a Nazi for a 'Colonialists and Natives' party. He says the rabbi has a quality he often recognizes in truly wise people, of forgiveness. But, he never takes this lesson of forgiveness and extends it to anyone else. He doesn’t consider the royal family or the paparazzi from the angle of the social constructs that have led to their existence. He doesn’t question basic notions of royalty - like when he discovers he has to ask the Queen for permission to ask Meghan to marry him, he regards the moment as either the beginning or end of his relationship. It doesn’t cross his mind to imagine disobeying his Queen. And in one of his pap-shittalking moments, he writes, “Centuries ago royal men and women were considered divine. Now, they were insects. What fun, to pluck their wings.”
My favorite parts of the book were consistently those moments when Harry encountered wild animals. When he shoots and kills his first stag, his guide cuts open its stomach and pushes Harry’s face inside, and though it makes him come close to puking, he considers it his first spiritual experience, calling it a baptism.
In Namibia, he peers into a lion's face: "I can't explain it, and I can't defend it, but I felt that I knew her."
Happening upon a wild elephant at night in the middle of a river, and looking into its eye, he writes: "I thought of a camera's lens, convex and glassy like the elephant's eye, except that a camera lens always made me nervous, and this eye made me feel safe. This eye wasn't judging, wasn't taking, it just was."
Maybe animals are the divine ones, Harry.