Thursday, April 23, 2020

Book 230: Game of Crowns

"In the game of chess, no piece is more useful than the queen. It can move vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, and-like all the pieces on the board- its sole purpose is to protect the king. And, in some cases, the future king."

Dates read: May 1-3, 2018

Rating: 4/10

One of the first pop-culture events I have a very specific, clear memory of is the death of Princess Diana when I was 11. I remember stuff before that, of course (I have a very clear memory of the latchkey staff rolling TVs into the room for the OJ verdict, for instance) but Di's death was the first time I had a real sense of the context of what I was seeing and hearing. I remember my mother's genuine sadness, though her usual response to news about foreign royalty was to wonder why anyone would care. She also did not subscribe to the idea of the television being left on as background noise (a mindset I've inherited, much to my husband's chagrin), so the fact that it wasn't snapped off but was allowed to continue to play marked the significance of the thing.

Getting disproportionately emotionally invested in the death of a divorced British mother of two made us not at all unique. The whole world lost it a little for a minute there. Diana's life and death continues to resonate around the British Royal Family, and it is through this prism that Christopher Andersen presents her mother-in-law, romantic rival, and would-have-been daughter-in-law in his book, Game of Crowns. Queen Elizabeth II, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Katherine, Duchess of Cambridge are all women who either are or could be queens of England, and all of them are touched by the legacy of the People's Princess.

So it makes sense, in a way, that Andersen spends so much time talking about the ill-fated marriage between Charles and Diana. At least one third of the book is devoted to the story of their courtship, their terrible marriage, and their contentious divorce. On the other hand, though, the "War of the Waleses" is an already extensively documented phenomenon. There's no real new reporting here: they barely knew each other when they got married, they both cheated (though Diana at least went into her marriage without an active side piece), they both orchestrated media to lash out against the other, and they were both active, engaged parents. Her death and the near-constitutional crisis that the response to it engendered had a real impact on the monarchy. And his reporting of William and Kate's courtship isn't really much better, in terms of doing more than just summarizing already-available information: lingerie on the catwalk, the break-up, the make-up, the wedding.

What is new is gossip, nearly all of it negative, about Charles and Camilla, with special venom reserved for the latter. He begins the book with a lengthy "what could happen" riff about the ascension of Charles to the throne when his mother dies, predicting that his vanity and hubris will lead to the abolition of the monarchy. While Diana's leaks to the press are treated a part of her savvy media strategy, leaks from Charles and/or Camilla are portrayed as sneaky, underhanded, and devious. Camilla is depicted as scheming and manipulative, and set against Kate, who's given a Diana-esque sheen of being both glamorous and naturally gifted at connection with strangers (without any actual supporting evidence). I checked out of the book entirely when Andersen breathlessly related that Camilla had "leaked" information about Kate's low tally of "engagements", the kind of meet-and-greets and ribbon-cuttings that make up royal work. The reality is that the Royal Family publishes engagements in the easily-publicly-accessible Court Circular, and a year-end tally is common practice for journalists covering the royal beat. Camilla wouldn't have had to leak anything to anyone to "shame" Kate for lackluster numbers because that information would have been published anyways! A failure to understand something as basic as this shows the whole book to be without rooting in fact. It's basically a very long, poorly fact-checked People article and I don't recommend it.

One year ago, I was reading: The Lowland

Two years ago, I was reading: The Kingmaker's Daughter

Three years ago, I was reading: The Leavers

Four years ago, I was reading: The Crack in Space

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