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Spare review by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

Spare review by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

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“Pandas and Royalty” wrote Hilary Mantel in 2013, “are expensive to preserve and not adapted to every modern environment. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everyone is staring at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit is still a cage.

Now suppose one of these pandas tries to leave its cage in search of fresh bamboo. Thus begins Prince Harry’s odyssey, The Duke of Sussex, who is technically still a prince and duke and still fifth in line to the British throne, but who has turned his back on the monarchy for the sake of the woman he loves. An old-school gesture that puts him right up there with his great-great-uncle Edward VIII, only the way he does it is so distinctly 21st century: self-righteous, multi-platform worship – I’m not guiltycan be called – which has turned from an Oprah sitting down to a Netflix docu-series, and which is now culminating — or, more likely, building up — with a new memoir, “Spare.”

Tina Brown’s royal revelations spare no one, especially Meghan Markle

The title, in case you were wondering, is the nickname given to Harry in his early childhood. He was to be the second-born “Reserve” to the “Heir”, his older brother William, the future Prince of Wales. “I was the shadow,” he writes now, “the back-up, Plan B. I was out in the open in case something happened to Willie.” And if you ever doubted that this was a recipe for resentment, here are more than 400 pages to fix you up.

Prince Harry’s memoir attacks a family he wants to change. They have no comment.

Like Harry, the book is good-natured, mean-spirited, humorous, self-righteous, self-deprecating, verbose. And occasionally, confusing. More questions about the prince’s todger than you’d ever think to ask are answered. (It was circumcised and almost froze to death at the North Pole.) And if you’re wondering who Harry lost his virginity to, it was an elderly woman who “was very fond of horses and treated me like a young stallion. A quick ride, then she slapped my ass and sent me grazing.

Written with and almost certainly edited by JR Moehringer, who helped make Andre Agassi’s memoir so memorable, the book provides behind-the-scenes vignettes of royalty (the Queen prepares salad dressing, Charles performs headstands in his boxers) and generous portions of woo-woo: The spirit of Princess Diana variously appears in a Botswana leopard, an Eton fox and a Tyler Perry painting, and even finds a way to mess up Charles and Camilla’s wedding plans. No doubt it’s his mother’s The 1997 death is still the primal wound in Harry’s psyche, now 38, and the book’s most affecting passages show his 12-year-old self struggling to grieve in public. He only cried once, at her grave, then never again, and spent years clinging to the theory that she had simply gone into hiding.

He grew up to be an indifferent student and recreational drug user, known as “the naughty one” and “the stupid one”. (What was he thinking when he wore a Nazi uniform to a costume party? “I wasn’t.”) Two combat stints gave him some confidence before he settled into the surreal life of royalty — “this endless The Truman Show in which I almost never carry money, never owned a car, never carried a house key, never ordered anything online, never received a single box from Amazon, almost I’ve never taken the subway. Whatever connections he made could not survive the tabloid press that hounded his every move. “Royal glory,” he concluded, “was a fantastic captivity.”

Enter as you know you should, Megan.

By now, the stages of their affair are available to anyone who cares: the Instagram stalking, the dinner date, the week in a tent in Botswana. The same goes for the abuse Markle received from the British media, a toxic mix of racism and misogyny that too often, Harry says, went unchallenged by Buckingham Palace. No wonder, as palace staff either planted the stories or actively wooed the reporters behind them. “Dad’s office, Willy’s office,” Harry fumed, “allows these devils, if not directly to cooperate.”

“Dear boy,” his father advised, “just don’t read it.” That wasn’t an option for Harry, who was, by his own admission, “definitely addicted” to reading and raged at his own media coverage. But when he decided to retire from royal duties, his fury returned: William, according to an already well-publicized anecdote, grabbed him by the collar and knocked him to the ground. Stripped of their royal allowances and eventually their guards, Harry and Meg fled first to Canada before settling in America or, as Harry cheekily calls it, “the undiscovered country from which no traveler returns.”

Meghan and Harry had a fairytale getaway. They still seem trapped.

So, meet them in their current iteration: still gorgeous, parents of two gorgeous kids — and also, the author tactfully admits, drawing on “corporate partnerships” to “highlight the causes we care about, tell the stories , which we considered vital. And to pay for our security. In a more pitiful vein: “I love my country, I love my family and I always will. I just wish that in the second darkest moment of my life, they were both there for me.”

Yet, in a perverse way, they do were there for him, and he for them. The brand he and Meghan have so carefully nurtured is entirely dependent on the brand they are so publicly abandoning. With every morsel of palace scandal they enter the news cycle, they feed the beast they condemn, and it will never end, and for the sake of the Windsors, i can they never end because that would mean our interest in them has dried up. One ends up almost longing for the days when royalty just poisoned each other or fought a civil war. If anything, they got it out of their systems.

Louis Bayard is the author of The Pale Blue Eye and Jackie and Me.

From Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

A random house. 416 pp. $36

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