Now that a lot of the furore has died down about Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, I thought it might be a good time to post my review.
The title Spare refers to an aristocratic adage that an heir and a spare were needed to ensure the inheritance remained in the family, if the heir should die.
In this case, Prince Harry is Prince Williams’ spare for the throne of England. However, since Prince William had his three children, Prince Harry has been bumped down from second in line to the throne to fifth.
Spare by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex
I’m not a particular fan of the British Royal Family, but there were two reasons I wanted to read this memoir.
Firstly, as we all know, it was written by a ghostwriter, J R. Moehringer. Moehringer is a well-known US journalist and author, having written his own acclaimed memoir The Tender Bar, which was made into a movie.
He’s also ghostwritten other celebrity memoirs, including Andre Agassi’s Open and Shoedog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. As a ghostwriter of memoirs myself, I was interested to see how Moehringer had written it.
I’m not sure whether it was intentional to make it public knowledge that Spare was ghostwritten - many, if not most celebrities, require their ghostwriters to sign a non-disclosure agreement. But even if that was the case, it’s the sort of thing that would have been hard to keep a secret for too long, given the level of media scrutiny that surrounds the Royal Family.
In his Acknowledgments, Prince Harry refers to ‘‘collaborator and friend, confessor and sometime sparring partner, JHM, who spoke to me often about the beauty and sacred obligation of memoir.’
The second reason I wanted to read it was to form my own opinion of it. When it was first published, and even before, there was so much commentary about it, based on leaked information, small excerpts taken out of context and other pundits’ opinions, many of whom had not read the book.
In my opinion, you’re not qualified to publicly discuss a book if you haven’t read it.
Reviews For Spare
Predictably, Spare was an enormous bestseller, selling 3.2 million copies world wide in the first week, making it the fastest selling non-fiction book since records began.
And, defying many pundits who predicted the book would be full of Harry moaning about his lot, it was far from that, and many thousands of readers have enjoyed it.
The book has gained a rating of 4.3 stars out of 5 on Amazon from over 100 000 ratings. Here are some review excerpts from major publications:
‘Juicy, humorous, resentful and sad. ’ (The Washington Post)
‘Unlike all the abuse spouted by its detractors, this book wasn’t scandalous, and it wasn’t self-aggrandizing. Instead, it was a very down-to-earth, very absorbing memoir by and about a person who, through no fault of his own, is living an extraordinary life.' (Forbes Magazine)
‘Prince Harry’s memoir is elegantly written and a triumphant vehicle for telling his side of the story.’ (The Standard)
Although this book is described as a memoir, it is more an autobiography. Although there isn’t much written about Harry’s childhood before he was 12, when his mother was killed, the rest of the book covers his whole life from then up to the present.
Although it’s not physically structured in this way, the book covers the three main parts of his life - losing his mother and his educational years, his time in the military, and meeting Meghan and the subsequent changes in his life.
There are many themes woven into this book, most of them already well-publicised. Harry’s grief over the death of his mother is a major and poignant part of his story.
The only way he could cope with it was to tell himself she had run away and was hiding, and would eventually come back. He didn’t shed a tear for many years.
There’s also his anger at the media, blaming them for Diana’s death because they were following her car at the time of the accident.
Although he has grown up under media scrutiny and accepts the inevitability of this, his hostility and bitterness are aimed at the insatiable paparazzi, who have no morals and will inflict whatever hurt and injustice is necessary to get a story.
He also feels betrayed by members of his family, especially Charles and Will, for not trying to understand his reasons for leaving the UK, and for Buckingham Palace’s symbiotic, and as he sees it, toxic relationship with the Press. He also reveals his battles with anxiety and depression as a teenager and young adult.
J.R. Moehringer's Writing Style
The structure of the book is quite unusual. There are 87 chapters and an epilogue. The chapters are of varying lengths, some of them only a few lines. There is no new page for each chapter and not even a space between them.
They just flow from one to the other, giving the impression that book is one long rambling narrative.
I’m not sure if that was the impression Moehringer was trying to give, but in any case, it doesn’t detract from the narrative.
In fact, it keeps you reading; it’s not easy to think, ‘I’ll just finish this chapter,’ because there’s no discernible chapter end. Maybe that was his dastardly plan!
The book begins with a prologue, a meeting between Harry, William and Charles after the funeral of Prince Phillip. He is hoping they can sort out their differences, but they say they can’t understand why he left. ‘Here you go,’ he writes, indirectly dedicating the book to them.
Moehringer, as you’d expect of an author of his calibre, has done an excellent job. It’s easy to read, and elegantly, yet colloquially written, with a mix of short sentences, phrases masquerading as sentences, and thoughts interspersed with dialogue.
Prince Harry has made no secret of the fact that he is not much of a reader or writer, and Moehringer has taken the creative licence of imbuing the narrative with an eloquence and lyricism that Harry would not have used if he were writing the book.
POIGNANCY & HUMOUR
There are some very poignant moments, particularly surrounding Diana’s death. When Charles comes to break the news to Harry:
Pa didn’t hug me. He wasn’t great at showing emotions under normal circumstances, how could he be expected to show then in such a crisis? But his hand did fall once more on my knee and he said, ‘It’s going to be ok.’
That was quite a lot for him. Fatherly, hopeful, kind. And so very untrue.
There’s also some humour, though I found some of it cringe-making - for example, his account of losing his virginity to a woman who treated him ‘like a young stallion,’ and his account of getting frostbite on his ‘todger.’.
In the last part of the book, where he meets Meghan, whom he calls Meg, he describes first seeing her on a friend’s Instagram post:
I’d never seen anyone so beautiful. Why should beauty feel like a punch to the throat?
And: For 32 years I’d watched a conveyor belt of faces pass by and only a handful ever made me look twice. This woman stopped the conveyor belt. This woman smashed the conveyor belt to bits.
This is pretty much the tone of this part of the book; Harry is besotted. His descriptions of his relationship with Meg, and her relationships with his friends and family, brought home to me how much of what we hear in the media about the royal family is totally fabricated.
In fact, there are many incidents in the book where this happens, and I felt real sympathy for him and any celebrity, who has to deal with the merciless determination of the paparazzi.
EMPATHY & INSIGHT
Overall, the book certainly gave me a new understanding of and considerable empathy for what Harry has undergone and his current circumstances - bearing in mind that it’s only his side of the story we are hearing, and that others who have a role in his life may have a completely different, and just as valid, perspective.
It also gives you a fascinating insight into the daily life of the royals and their rarefied and restrictive lifestyle - a life they’ve not chosen and take for granted, but not a life to which any ordinary, sane person would aspire. Thanks goodness I have never fallen in love with a prince and had that choice to make!
Of course, like all of us, Harry is not without his faults. There are many incidents and revelations in the book that can only be described as point-scoring, and at times he is hypocritical.
When talking about being accused of airing dirty laundry during media interviews, he claims that Charles and Camilla have done the same, by feeding the media information that puts them in a good light, and telling lies about Harry to take the heat off them.
Consequently, he might think it gives him the right to do the same, but then he has to accept that he’s stooped to the same level as those he’s accused.
In his ‘About the Author’ blurb on Amazon, Prince Harry describes himself as ‘ husband, father, humanitarian, military veteran, mental wellness advocate, and environmentalist.
He resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his family and three dogs.’
Prince Harry Interviews
Here’s an interview with Stephen Colbert on the Late Show after the release of Spare.
Prince Harry & Meghan Markle
Here’s the infamous interview on Oprah with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Spare Review Conclusion
I recommend this book if you want to find out more about the truth (at least, Harry’s truth) behind the hype. In its essence, it’s a coming-of-age story about a man dealing with grief and loss, and his quest for love and acceptance.
At 416 pages in print, it’s a hefty book and makes a good doorstop. But it doesn’t drag, and even though you know how it ends, it keeps you absorbed all the way.