I recently finished Sarah Bradford’s biography of Princess Diana, and I loved it. I’ve never reviewed* a non-fiction book before, so I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be critiquing exactly. I obviously can’t fault the author for her plot points and character development (I don’t think I’d even be inclined to anyway), so I suppose I’ll focus on organization and the perceived presence or lack of bias.
The book traces Diana’s impecable pedigree back several generations and delves into the deep seated issues so common amongst English nobility – the preference of sons over daughters for the sake of carrying on the family name. It then follows Diana through her less-than-stellar academic career and soon thereafter catapolts her into the company of Prince Charles and the rest of the royal crew, focusing primarily upon her years immediately following her marriage and the years leading up to and following her divorce.
The uneven pacing was really the only fault I had with the author’s account of Diana’s life and death. I felt she lingered over certain elements of her personality or life events for an unnecessarily lengthy period of time, and then would suddenly jump to the next topic without much warning. I was surprised, for example, by how much detail there was regarding her family’s history, but then how quickly her engagement to Prince Charles came to be. I may be able to pass this off, though, when you consider the fact that she was only 19 then, and I suppose it might have been difficult to stretch out the time and bolster the details leading up to her marriage, especially when she so cherished her private life. There was, however, an exorbitant amount of time and energy devoted to her engagement and early years of marriage, and then even more spent on its deterioriation and the eventual divorce. While I acknowledge and completely understand that these were very pivitol moments in her life, and they would arguably be of the greatest interest to the reader (as they were for me), I was still slightly disappointed by the lack of real information between 1984 and 1992.
Uneven is the same word I would use to describe the author’s treatment of Diana’s personality and relationships; frequently, I felt as though the author was simply repeating bits of information without having analyzed them herself and tried to present them with a newer, broader perspective, and this made for a certain choppiness. I got the impression that the author was trying to present a balanced view of Diana by offering one extreme closely followed by another, but this really only led to an intangible neutrality at worst and confusion at best. Had she attempted to synthesize the two extremes, she may have managed to present Diana somewhat more accurately. For example, even after 12 discs, I never got a clear understanding of Diana’s relationship with Fergie. Perhaps this is due in part to the actual nature of the relationship itself, but I feel that a lot of it is due to Sarah Bradford’s treatment of it – within paragraphs, the two “Wicked Wives of Windsor” would go from best friends and confidants to arch enemies.
Content-wise, I was consistently horrified and flabbergasted by the nearly complete lack of respect shown to Diana by the royal family. Why on earth they never seemed to realize what a gem they had uncovered and what an excellent tool to tweak the monarchy she was, I’ll never understand. That, and the absolute lack of consideration for her feelings in light of Charles being so unfaithful to her for so long and so openly, paired with the shock and disgust exhibited towards her after she began to have her own affairs.
As a side note, I also frequently felt as though I was drowning in a sea of titles like Vicount and Lady and Ambassador and an undercurrent of extremely English names, like Lord Arnold Henry “Poppyseed” Blacksmith-Dinglehopper of Cheshire Downs, but again, I suspect that this is less a product of Ms. Bradford’s writing and more to do with the actual people in Diana’s life.
I was wildly disappointed and disheartened to learn that Diana’s last years were spent with someone so unsavory as Dodi – my mother had always impressed upon me the fact that Diana was found to be wearing an engagement ring at the time of her death and that therefore, she must have been very happy leading up to it, and this had comforted me. To know that it was all something of a ploy for power and popularity was gut-wrenching, and I felt very betrayed and immensely sad for her.
Finally, I also had no idea that her death had been so violent; I was 9 at the time, so I’m not surprised that a lot of the details had been hidden or softened for me, but the thought of her heart moving from the left to the right and her subsequent multiple heart attacks sickens me. The account of her death and funeral, particularly when there was any mention of the princes, tore me up and I may have ended my experience with the audiobook softly sobbing.
The story ends very abruptly, which I found off-putting at first but now think may be most appropriate, given its subject’s own untimely ending. It was, after all, supposed to be an account of her life – to linger any longer on her death would have made things somewhat “untidy,” and that would not have suited Diana.
The end. I’m not updating as well or frequently because I’m taking a “Library 2.0” course that requires that I maintain a class-specific blog and by the time I’m done updating that and then doing work on my research paper and my literature review and book review and trying hopelessly to figure out what the point of cataloging is, I’m just over it. I can’t wait for the end of July!
*Please bear in mind that I realize none of these “book reviews” I write actually constitute real reviews. They are not formatted in any particular way whatsoever, and they are ripe with spoilers and extremely biased language. I believe I’ve stated this elsewhere, but I am perfectly able to write a really great, really legitimate book review according to any standards I’m given…I just don’t feel the need to within my own personal/quasi-professional blog.