By Anne T. Donahue
What did I think was going to happen? What did I, a human woman in the year 2023, believe I would learn upon reading Spare, Prince Harry’s memoir? Valuable insight into the Royal Family? Harry’s deepest fears and biggest regrets? Insight? Nuance? Revelations that lay outside the realms of frostbite? Did I truly expect Harry to barf out 30-something years of emotion, dissecting his behaviours and beliefs, and coming away from his experience as a Royal as someone completely opposed to the institution under which he was raised?
I mean, yes. I did think that. I thought, along with all the headlines about hooking up in a field behind a pub, the quips about William’s hairline, and literally everything else we’ve been reading for over two weeks, that Spare would offer something other than what most celebrity memoirs tend to: not very much.
And who’s fault is that? His? The Duke of Sussex who got millions of dollars because it was guaranteed to sell and we were all guaranteed to talk about it? Or was it my own? For buying into the idea that a guy who’s lived a difficult, albeit extremely privileged life, might open up and illuminate the internal struggles that have seemed to dictate the majority of his adult life?
The thing is, Prince Harry isn’t a writer. (Like, literally: his memoir was ghost-written by J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer-winning author whose own memoir, The Tender Bar, was turned into a movie.) And not only that, Prince Harry is a self-admitted non-reader who fell in love with Of Mice and Men because it was short. Which is fine! He went to Eton because he could, he graduated because of course, and in the meantime, he grappled with the trauma and reality of growing up under the glare of the media which played a large part in the tragic death of his mother. That’s a shit-load to unpack, and considering it took him meeting Meghan Markle to really begin recognizing unconscious bias and the toxicity of the inner-workings of The Firm (let alone him beginning to acknowledge the Family’s storied history of colonialism and racism), that’s not a lot of time to gain perspective and to process what it all means.
Most writers – or anyone who shares their own story – tend to need a little bit of time before they start ripping open and dissecting the story of their lives. We know this because we’re living in an incredible age of memoirists, essayists, and authors who’ve given us more than we could possibly ask, and we’re spoiled with books and pieces that end up meaning a lot to us and wouldn’t mean as much if whoever was behind them rushed into their narrative. And the thing about our own stories is that depending on how we’re growing and changing, they tend to change, too. When I look at my perspective ten years ago (or ten months ago), I want to dig a large hole, crawl into it, and wait for death: if something was new or I still felt the sting of whatever-the-hell, it was obvious even if I thought I was being subtle. It takes a long time to be able to stand back and call out your own role in the best and worst things, and it takes even longer to figure out the relationship you want to have with the people who’ve wronged you. Some people I will hate forever and deserve to be hated! Others, I recognize as victims in their own right, and now when I talk or write about them, I tread a little bit lighter.
But why would I expect Prince Harry to be at that point already? The boy broke up with his family like, last year. He’s only just started talking about what a shit-show growing up Royal was, and he admits that he coped with Diana’s death by assuming that she was in hiding somewhere. (For years. He did this for years.) Harry isn’t at the end of a tale, he’s right smack in the middle of it. Why would I expect him to be able to back away and to share what he thinks it all means when he’s still in the early days of realizing how fucked up his norm was? (And is! It’s still fucked! If you’re getting paid millions of dollars to have ghostwrite your memoir, that’s fucked! It just is!) In what world was I living to think I’d sink into Spare and come away with it thinking, “Wow . . . and now I feel differently about my own life?” Spareis the equivalent of a 400-page Blogspot. Which isn’t to say it’s bad – it’s actually a right of passage when you’re Going Through It and need to share. But I should’ve known that. I think anyone who’s disappointed with it should’ve known that.
It’s Harry’s second book I’m looking forward to. The one that deals with the aftermath of Spare.
Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!