Prince Harry’s bestselling memoir, Spare, has recently broken records as the fastest-selling nonfiction book in Britain. It’s not difficult to believe that millions of people have flocked to buy what is ostensibly the hottest literary gossip ever released. Reading Spare is a strange experience. The prince revisits infamous press stories from his perspective and reveals family feuds. Nobody is really villainized here, and at times, the writing even leads readers to question if Harry’s victim-like perception of his media treatment is completely justified when considering the immaturity of so many of his stories.
It’s only natural to view Spare as the final act in the triad of Harry and Meghan Markle’s revelations to the public. The book is similarly split into three main parts – his childhood, his years in the British Army and his relationship with Meghan. Although the exploration of his relationships might be interesting to some, I thought they were a less compelling facet of the book. Rather, the places he visited are given the most detailed attention. He writes of spending his gap year in Australia and Lesotho, and later on, he details a critical African safari with Meghan.
There are times when it is difficult to believe how much detail is in the book. Like much of the Internet, I found myself grimacing as Harry cycled through a number of phallic euphemisms.
Spare’s most striking moments are the quiet griefs that Harry shares – not the near-scandalous tidbits of his sex life or the fraternal conflicts he shares with William. There’s a sense of panic as we flit from one chapter to the next, stringing the book together on seemingly precarious threads of family and loss. When he meets people who share their recollections of Harry’s late mother Diana, there’s a tinge of helpless anger in Harry’s narration that belies his frustration with the fact that everyone else seems to have held onto more pieces of his mother than he has.
At times, his tone can get tiring. It’s almost too much of a classic British schoolboy bluster that sounds disjointed with the sociopolitical tensions he observes from a distance, from race to the inherent privilege of the royal family. Even as he tries to discuss these topics, he still sounds very much removed from the actual situation.
I found Harry’s memories of Australia most resonant, not because I have experience herding cattle or horseback riding, but because of the blissful silence he encounters. Not literal silence, but rather a state of existence away from the media.
“I came from a place where every move was monitored, catalogued, and subjected to judgment,” Harry wrote.
Harry offers up an explanation for his fascination, saying that “[t]he thing I found endlessly mesmerizing about the stars was how far away they all were. The light you saw was born hundreds of centuries ago. In other words, looking at a star, you were looking at the past, at a time long before anyone you knew or loved had lived.”
He doesn’t describe royal experiences, he describes human ones. At the same time, these chapters offer up a youthful perspective. When Harry describes how much he enjoyed the grueling routine of working as a jackaroo on a cattle farm in Australia, he sums it up with “cows need their space. I felt them.”
It’s this kind of dry observation that lends this section, and Spare overall, its appeal. But still, in the book, paparazzi cut this blissful existence short, and Harry is shuttled onto his next destination.
This memoir is haunted by a spectrum of hardships, many of them birthed by the journalists that make Harry’s life miserable: his mother’s death, speculated familial conflicts and the precarious PR image that the Windsors must maintain. But at other times, there is a layer of ridiculous details that one cannot make their way past. Readers are subjected to excessive detail about frostbite in Harry’s genitals and details of his sex life. In an effort to seem more approachable, he totters on the edge of ridicule. Why on earth, one might ask, would anyone – much less a public figure – want people to know about this?
Perhaps, it is because Harry has his life thoroughly picked through by the media. And now, he is loosening the taps on his own terms, letting them have everything they want, and more.
Although this is Harry's story, Spare was ghostwritten by J. R. Moehringer, a celebrity ghostwriter who has also written successful memoirs like Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog and Andre Agassi’s Open. But, Moehringer’s writing is impressive, grounding the reader in the minutiae of the royal life whirlwind. The Pulitzer-winning writer humanizes Harry in a way that the Netflix episodes of Harry & Meghan and high-profile interviews have been unable to do, allowing the reader to experience everything from African landscapes to his carefully-planned grocery routine.
So, although Spare comes across as almost perverse with the amount of insight we gain into Harry’s private life, the book’s framing is, in some ways, infinitely more interesting than any number of interviews or TV shows that the public has seen so far. Instead of the media-frenzied love story of Harry and Meghan, or the relationship between William and Harry, we just get Harry.
Thumbnail courtesy of Penguin Random House