Monday, July 4, 2022

99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess MargaretNinety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret 
by Craig Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first picked up this book (at a library book sale I think) I thought it was a novel, and in some ways (having now read it) I think I was correct. Technically it is a biography of HRH the Princess Margaret (1930-2002), sister to Queen Elizabeth II. It was published in Britain under the title Ma'am Darling.

Rachel Cook, writing in The Guardian, said:
Brown has done something amazing with Ma’am Darling: in my wilder moments, I wonder if he hasn’t reinvented the biographical form. Subtitled 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, it is described by his publisher (which, infuriatingly, hasn’t given him an index) as “kaleidoscopic”. But this doesn’t do it justice. It is a cubist book, a collection of acute angles through which you see its subject and her world (and, to an extent, our world) anew.
I really liked the form of this book -- each chapter (or glimpse) is a self-contained view. Some are diary entries from various people who met PM, others are press clippings, lists of related things, narrative descriptions of events in her life (like you would expect to find in a biography). Some of the glimpses are fictional "what-ifs" presented as if they had happened: a marriage to Pablo Picasso, and PM becoming Queen of England. This multiplicity of viewpoints comes together into a fascinating portrait of a life lived in a very strange fishbowl.

The New York Times Review of this book concludes with what I think is an accurate depiction of what this book does:
"Without ever explicitly positioning Margaret for our pity, Brown reveals how we elevate in order to destroy. Who or what, in the final reckoning, is the true grotesque — the absurd, unhappy princess, those desperate to get close to her, or the system propping them all up?"
This was one of my 20 Books of Summer and I it counts toward the Nonfiction Reader Challenge in the category of "social history." I already have a book for that category however, so this one becomes one of my "wildcard" titles.

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