The verdict on Prince Harry’s book: juicy, funny, resentful and sad

“Pandas, like royalty,” Hilary Mantel wrote in 2013, “are expensive to maintain and ill-suited to any modern setting. But they are interesting, aren’t they? Isn’t it nice to watch them? Some find them endearing; others feel sorry for their precarious situation; but everyone stares at them, and no matter how airy the rooms they inhabit are, they are still cages”.

Now suppose one of these pandas decides to break out of its cage in search of fresh bamboo. Thus began the odyssey of prince harry, Duke of Sussex, who is technically still Prince, Duke and fifth in line to the British throne, but has turned his back on the monarchy for the woman he loves. An old-fashioned gesture that puts you right next to your great-great-uncle Edward VIIIthough its parable belongs so distinctly to the 21st century: a cross-platform self-justifying pilgrimage – one might call it a “non mea culpa” – that began with an interview with Oprah Winfreygoing through a documentary series on Netflix and now culminating – or more likely gaining momentum – with a new memoir, “Spare” (published with the title “What’s left”in Brazil).

The original title, in case you’re wondering where it comes from, is Harry’s childhood nickname. He was to be the “reserve” (substitute) of the “heir”, his older brother, William, who would later become Prince of Wales. “I was the shadow,” he writes now, “the backup, Plan B. I was brought into the world in case anything happened to Willy.” And if you’ve ever doubted that this is a recipe for resentment, here are over 400 pages to clear your doubt.

Copies of Prince Harry’s new book ‘Spare’ are displayed in a bookshop in London Photography: Kin Cheung/AP

Like Harry, the book is lovable, mischievous, funny, smug, self-deprecating, long-winded and, here and there, baffling. More questions about the prince’s penis are answered than anyone ever thought to ask. (He is circumcised and nearly frozen at the North Pole). he slapped my ass and told me to graze”.

Co-written with JR Moehringer, who helped Andre Agassi make his memoirs so memorable, and almost certainly enhanced, the book features real-life behind-the-scenes anecdotes (the Queen emulsifying salad dressing, Charles making the handstand in underwear). and generous portions of madness: the spirit of Princess Diana variously manifesting in a leopard in Botswana, a cat at Eton, a painting by Tyler Perry, and even finding a way to derail the wedding plans of Carlo And camilla. There’s no doubt that the death of his mother in 1997 is still the main wound in Harry’s 38-year-old psyche, and the book’s most poignant passages show the 12-year-old struggling to suffer under public scrutiny. He cried only once, at the grave, and never again. And he spent years clinging to the fantasy that she was just hiding.

As he grew older, Harry became an inattentive student and recreational drug user, known in various circles as “the bad boy” and “stupid”. (What was he thinking when he donned a Nazi uniform to a costume party? “Nothing.”) Two stints in military combat gave him some confidence before settling into the surreal life of royalty: “this never-ending Truman Show I’ve hardly ever had money in my wallet, I’ve never owned a car, I’ve never carried my house keys in my pocket, I’ve never bought anything online, I’ve never received any boxes from Amazon, I’ve hardly ever took the subway.” No relationship he forged could withstand the pressure of absolute control from the tabloid “paparazzi” who stalk his every step. “The real fame,” he concluded, “was captivity chic.”

And Meghan enters the scene as it should.

Princes William and Harry leave the service of thanksgiving for the life of Diana, Princess of Wales at the Guards Chapel, London, 31 August 2007
Princes William and Harry leave the service of thanksgiving for the life of Diana, Princess of Wales at the Guards Chapel, London, 31 August 2007 Photography: Lewis Whyld/AP

So far the stages of this love are known to anyone interested in the subject: the meeting on Instagram, the romantic dinner, the week in a tent in Botswana. In addition to the bats Markle has received from the British media, a toxic mix of racism and misogyny that too often, says Harry, has not been challenged by Buckingham Palace. Which is hardly surprising, since palace officials were either planting stories or actively directing reporters to follow them. “Dad’s office, Willy’s office,” Harry curses, “supporting these fanatics or even working directly with them.”

“Dear son,” his father advised, “just don’t read.” Which wasn’t an option for Harry, who, by his own admission, was “undeniably addicted” to the press reading about him, which infuriated him. But when Harry decided to step back from royal duties, fury struck again: William, according to a well-known anecdote, grabbed Harry by the collar and knocked him to the ground. Without their royal allowance and ultimately without security agents, Harry and Meg traveled to Canada before settling in the WEor, as Harry jokingly puts it, “the unknown country, from whose borders no traveler ever returns”.

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan salute as they travel in a carriage following their wedding ceremony at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle
Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan salute as they travel in a carriage following their wedding ceremony at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle Photography: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

So look at its current manifestation: still gorgeous, parents of two beautiful children — and also, the author diplomatically acknowledges, seeking “corporate partnerships” to “advertise the causes we care about, tell the stories we deem vital. And to pay for our safety. In a sadder vein: “I love my country, I love my family and I always will. I just wish that in the second darkest moment of my life I could count on both of them”.

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Yet, albeit in a perverse way, Harry can count on both of them – and they on him. The brand Harry and Meghan have so carefully cultivated depends entirely on the brand they so publicly dismiss. With every bite of palace scandal they feed the news cycle, the beast they despise. It will never end and, fortunately for the Windsors, it cannot end, as that would mean that our interest in them has dried up. We can end up almost nostalgic for the days when royalty poisoned each other or fought civil wars. At least they got rid of the negativity. / TRANSLATION BY GUILHERME RUSSO

* Louis Bayard is the author of “The Pale Blue Eye” and “Jackie & Me”

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