Honest, insightful and often vulnerable, Spare shares Prince Harry’s personal journey from childhood to adulthood and fatherhood
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“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
— William Faulkner
I finished reading this book a couple weeks ago, when the public furor and panty-twisting about it were at their zenith. But despite all the wildly inaccurate claims about what this book supposedly says, I think it reads like a deeply personal coming-of-age memoir.
I found Spare by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex (and his ghost writer, J.R. Moehringer) (Random House, 2022: Amazon US / Amazon UK), to be sensible, carefully structured (for the most part) and extremely readable. 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. In short: I enjoyed it and read it in one long sitting.
The book is divided into three roughly equal-sized parts: Harry’s childhood, the premature loss of his mother, Diana, and his educational years, particularly at Eton; his young adulthood, career in the military along with his ongoing search for love and his growing hostility towards the paparazzi (’paps’ as he refers to them), and in the third part, meeting Meghan, his deepening relationship with her, their changing relationship with his family, and his fatherhood.
Prevailing themes throughout the book are trauma, betrayal and loss, which many people can relate to. Harry presents a powerful and courageous look at the dynamics of an astonishingly dysfunctional family trapped in an emotional poverty they can’t understand, a socially crippled family that uses the press as a weapon against its enemies and against the world — and each other — by publicly or politically discrediting their rivals with falsehoods. In some ways, I viewed this book as a modernized retelling of, say, I Claudius, which was about another highly dysfunctional royal family where individual family members secretly plot and ruthlessly maneuver to increase their own personal power, usually by murdering-by-poisoning their relatives.
Poisoning by paparazzi?
But it’s not all murdering drama. As he tells his story, Prince Harry also considers the central issues in his own personal life, core issues that all thinking people recognize and reflect upon at some point in their own lives. The book is, by turns, emotional and raw and funny and perceptive. For example, I found it to be particularly poignant that Harry was only too well aware of his primary purpose and duties as The Spare even when he was a very young child. He writes:
“The Heir and the Spare — there was no judgment about it, but also no ambiguity. I was the shadow, the support, the Plan B. I was brought into the world in case something happened to Willy. I was summoned to provide backup, distraction, diversion and, if necessary, a spare part. Kidney, perhaps. Blood transfusion. Speck of bone marrow. This was all made explicitly clear to me from the start of life’s journey and regularly reinforced thereafter.”
How much might this status have damaged Harry’s self-esteem? I cannot even imagine. Although many of Harry’s life experiences are unique, his writing about their effects upon him and his world views are refreshingly relatable and insightful: his recollections about feeling misunderstood, invalidated, unheard and devalued as an individual by his family certainly ring true for me, as I am sure they will for many people.
Most of this book shares Harry’s public and charitable work, and his military career. Both are deeply important to him and both are where the paparazzi hounded him mercilessly. Those closest to him often ended up fearing for their lives because the hoards of insatiable paparazzi routinely stalked them, and — again and again — this cost Harry dearly. For example, his former girlfriend, Chelsea, whom Harry might have married, broke up with him after discovering a tracking device had been installed on her car. Even more outrageous, the paparazzi even endangered the lives of Harry’s military unit in Iran.
Then Harry met Meghan. But even then they were subjected to frequent abuse, lies and overt racism by the press. These attacks were so bad that Meghan, who was pregnant at the time, contemplated suicide. What could Harry do to avoid yet another tragedy like what claimed his mother’s life, other than to flee?
“My problem has never been with the monarchy, nor the concept of monarchy” writes Prince Harry. “It’s been with the press and the sick relationship that’s evolved between it and the Palace. I love my Mother Country, and I love my family, and I always will. I just wish, at the second-darkest moment of my life, they’d both been there for me. And I believe they’ll look back one day and wish they had too.”
This engrossing book shares details of Harry’s childhood, young adulthood and eventually his finding love. But it also details a decisive journey away from loneliness and isolation into a fuller life by relying on the support of others and by discovering strength in vulnerability. It is a coming-of-age story that reflects on the importance of finding one’s own identity and being open to new experiences. Highly recommended.
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