I confess that I’ve been an Anglophile for as long as I can remember. My fascination with the current royals is just a small piece. There’s also my near obsession with the English monarchy throughout history. So you might say I was an ideal target for this autobiography by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. And yet, I only awarded it three stars on Goodreads.
The most interesting sections of SPARE are at the beginning and end. At the beginning because it’s Harry’s recollections of his childhood, which, he sadly recounts, ended with the death of his mother, Princess Diana (1961-1997). At the end of the book are the struggles that began when he fell in love with Meghan Markle, through their courtship and marriage, culminating in their 2020 decision to leave Britain to live in the United States. There’s also a short Epilogue about the death of Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022).
I’m afraid I found all the parts in between (most of the book) downright boring. There’s lots of detail about boarding schools (Ludgrove, Eaton) — the friends he had, the mediocre grades, the pranks he played and trouble he got into. There’s also no detail spared about his military experiences — with multiple trainings and deployments. While I realize this was an important time for Harry, where he actually felt he had an important purpose, I (who have little interest in the military) did not find it held my interest. Also in this middle section, there are episodes of partying hard, experimenting with drugs, feeling adrift, and being uncertain about what he should do with his life as the spare heir.
While I recognize this book is built around Harry’s perceptions (which represent only one side of the “story”), I found myself believing most of what he writes — simply because it made sense to me. And I understand why the rest of his family feels so burned by his revelations. Because he shares much about what goes on behind the scenes. And most people do not come off nearly as well as their heavily controlled and polished public images.
At the end of the book I’m left with three overall impressions:
1. The royal family is one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve ever heard or read about. It’s not just that their lives are so disconnected to the reality the rest of us experience. It’s more that their lives are dedicated 24/7 to maintaining a manufactured facade. Underneath, they ALL appear emotionally stunted, seem to know nothing about honest intimacy with another human, and are completely unable to offer even the most rudimentary support that most of us associate with the concept of “family”.
2. Harry, is a kind, well-meaning, deeply damaged man of average intelligence. He’s an individual much more in the mold of his emotionally complex mother than his dutiful older brother William, Prince of Wales, and father, King Charles III. Harry’s book makes it clear he has been clinically depressed and anxious since the death of his mother. With no one in his family of origin sensitive enough to recognize the trauma Diana’s sudden death caused, Harry was never helped to process what for any child would be a pivotal, life-altering event. Which means Harry has struggled alone since 1997. (His therapist called it PTSD.) Harry’s needs were completely neglected/ignored by those closest to him, who sadly had no clue how to handle the degree of grief Harry experienced at the vulnerable age of 12. And Harry was simply too young to know what to ask for. I, for one, hope his new nuclear family is able to provide the love, warmth, and support he so desperately needs.
3. And finally, the dark, co-dependent relationships among the members of the British Royal Family, the media who cover them, and the courtiers who maintain the institution of the monarchy amount to a tangled and ugly mess of neediness, deceit, and rivalry, where no one can or should trust anyone. In fact, that same tangled mess also describes the members of the royal family themselves.
So, if you’re interested in learning more about how this dysfunction plays out and what goes on behind the smiles and ribbon cuttings, you might enjoy reading this book. I guarantee this is one family (and system) you’ll be glad not to be part of.