The biggest book news so far this year is about Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and the uproar caused by his memoir about his woes as a royal supernumerary, called Spare. The memoir has one of the best titles I’ve seen in a long time – suitable and (I couldn’t resist the pun), spare – in the sense of being short. The rest of the book, however, could have been better.

PRINCE HARRY’S BOOK SPARE HAS BEEN GHOSTWRITTEN BY JR MOEHRINGER Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images (Source: retrieved Feb. 03, 2023)

It’s a suitable title because the memoir itself is also spare, in the sense of being over and above what is neededsuperfluous. This is one memoir that the world did not need, nor did the British royal family need it, nor did the general public need it. The Duke of Sussex, and his retinue, needed it, Penguin Random House needed it, and the ghost writer J.R. Moehringer needed it. They all needed it for money and fame, especially money:

In 2021 it was reported that Prince Harry had received an advance of about US$20-million from Penguin Random House for writing Spare, and that Moehringer was paid $1-million (about £820,000) to ghostwrite it. Add to that his personal wealth from being a member of the British royal family, and his various deals with the media, then one can say that Prince Harry is a wealthy man and getting wealthier from the success of Spare.

If Prince Harry were not a prince or a duke but just a red-haired man, perhaps someone in the British armed forces, who has never written a book, perhaps called Harry Windsor, would he have gotten a publishing deal of such magnitude from Penguin Random House? No. He would have gotten no deal at all.

Publicity and exposure they have also got (except for Moehringer who, as a ghostwriter, has stepped away from the spotlight): As of today, Spare has received 79,360 ratings, 11,775 reviews (average of 4.10) on Goodreads. A total of 1.4 million English-language copies in all formats in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada was sold on its release day, Jan. 10, 2023, according to Penguin Random House, making it the fastest-selling Nonfiction book of all time, breaking the record previously held by former President Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land. Spare has already been translated into 15 languages and it continues to sell like hotcakes, worldwide.

Why write a memoir?

Often the question with obituaries, memoirs, biographies and autobiographies is why they are written.

  • They could be written to record an individual’s specialized knowledge, achievements or insight, or the touchstone moments in their life.
  • Or, the person might be completely unknown but survived or overcame adversity, and wants to publicize that.
  • Sometimes the author wants to write about another side to their life which people may not know about – for instance, their professional life might be public knowledge, but their private life may be unknown – this is often the case with obituaries and autobiographies.
  • Another reason can be that it is an attempt to correct or change the perception or account of that person’s life.
  • Yet another can be that the author wants to acknowledge and thank the people who helped or influenced them.
  • And – obviously – they can write it for the money.

Memories can be iffy in a memoir

It is likely that Prince Harry wrote it to document his side of the story of his exit from the royal family, and to make money. I doubt that this book increased his popularity. Biographies and autobiographies are Nonfiction genres, and are usually detailed and full of dates and facts, except for the sub-category of memoirs. Memoirs depict what someone remembers, and memory, as we know, works according to specific cognitive patterns, which means that what we remember may not be how things really were. A memoir can therefore come close to being fictional. This is the case with Spare, and in fact, Prince Harry states this in the book:

“Whatever the cause, my memory is my memory, it does what it does, gathers and curates as it sees fit, and there’s just as much truth in what I remember and how I remember it as there is in so-called objective facts. Things like chronology and cause-and-effect are often just fables we tell ourselves about the past. The past is never dead. It’s not even past. When I discovered that quotation not long ago on, I was thunderstruck. I thought, Who the fook is Faulkner? And how’s he related to us Windsors?” – Prince Harry, Spare

Prince Harry, you are not well read. The quote is from American author, William Faulkner, from his 1950 novel, Requiem for a Nun. In October 2012, Faulkner Literary Rights – which represents Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner’s estate – sued representatives of Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris for misquoting the famous line, citing copyright infringement. But this line has been (mis)quoted countless times. Let’s hope that they don’t also try to sue Prince Harry for that quote.

What does Prince Harry have to say – and how?

With Spare, since it is co-authored by J.R. Moehringer, one wonders how much of the words are those of Prince Harry, because Prince Harry is not a writer. Moehringer and Prince Harry’s writing process has not been publicly revealed. Book agent Madeleine Morel said about Moehringer: “He’s the pinnacle. I’m sure everybody aspires to be him. He’s such a brilliant writer. It’s very hard to ghostwrite a book and at some level never have it sound like it was written by somebody else.”

Ghostwriters, if they are good, like Moehringer is, can sublimate their own voice to make the writing sound exactly like that of their subject – minus the spelling and grammar problems, of course. While they can get their subject to reveal more than they otherwise would have, they also have to be utterly discreet and disappear afterwards, like a ghost.

So there you are. It’s all Prince Harry. In Prince’s Harry’s words.

This memoir it is very much an attempt to reposition or change the perception of a public figure, by letting them explain themselves in their own words. It is an introspective, slanted portrayal of himself and those around him, which some reviewers have lambasted for being lies. But a memoir does not have to be factual or accurate. When you pick it up you see on the cover what you’re getting into, so do not expect to get elevated writing, or precise information, or the truth.

Spare confirms, unfortunately, that there is nothing special about Prince Harry, other than his title – an accident of birth. (Does taking responsibility for killing 25 Taliban fighters count?)

You should ask the writer of a memoir: Why do you think that you are important enough that anyone would read your memoir? I wonder what Prince Harry would say. Roger Moore, in his memoir, My Word is my Bond, writes in the Foreword:

“For years, people have said to me ‘Write your book,’ and for years I said, ‘No, there are too many people I’d have to write about, and even if they’re dead, what I might say would be an intrusion on their privacy. And, apart from that, I’m too lazy.”

– Roger Moore, My Word is my Bond

At the age of eighty, Moore thought he was old enough, mellow enough, interesting enough, hardworking and famous enough to write a memoir, but only with the aid of a ghostwriter. So what justification did Prince Harry have to write his memoir? He is a celebrity, he has the titles “Prince” and “Duke”, and he feels aggrieved and wanted to vent about it – rather the opposite of Sir Roger Moore.

Legal ramifications

It seems to me that Penguin Random House made a cynical move when it embarked on this money-making venture, because a great work of literature this book is not. This publisher’s policy is to not involve themselves with the contents and/or censorship of the books they publish, other than to ensure that their authors do not get sued:

“Perhaps the most direct and hands-on way that we protect and preserve our authors’ freedom of expression is the day-to-day work we do to minimize the risk that our authors and their books will be subject to legal challenges.” (Statement by Penguin Random House, 2018, retrieved Feb. 3, 2023)

From this, I conclude that the quality of the work does not matter as much as the legal risks do – which are fundamentally financial, and high – and the sales. This means that the publisher decided that none of the contents of Spare would lead to lawsuits, and therefore let it go out into the world the way it is.

So you, dear readers, can now also go out into the world and buy your copy of Spare with your hard-earned money, thereby contributing to Prince Harry’s wealth and making sure that he can keep living his life of luxury, and that (Heaven help us) he will write more books.

Good memoirs

Spare does not compare well to other memoirs I have read, even the memoirs of people who were crazy or addicted to something. The well-written memoirs, that I have listed below, gave me fresh insights and increased my estimation of the author. One in particular is Faith, Hope and Carnage, by Nick Cave and Seán O’Hagan, published September 20, 2022.

Faith, Hope and Carnage, by Nick Cave and Seán O’Hagan

The book contains the documented conversations that these two have had, and it is not a formal memoir or autobiography, though it is about Nick Cave’s life, his music, and his memories. It is beautifully (re-)written, the ideas are interesting and fresh and I find something worth knowing on every page. (My review will follow – but it’s taking a long time to digest.) It is interesting how differently Cave expresses his grief about the death of his son, as opposed to Prince Harry about the death of his mother. In Cave’s case, it had a profound effect on his musicianship and creativity.

Here are some good ones that I recommend:

  • Faith, Hope and Carnage, by Nick Cave and Seán O’Hagan
  • The Man in the Red Coat, by Julian Barnes
  • My Word is my Bond, by Roger Moore
  • My Twenty-Five years in Provence, by Peter Mayle
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson
  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life, by Chris Hadfield
  • Medium Raw, by Anthony Bourdain
  • Me, by Elton John
  • Is This Anything?, by Jerry Seinfeld

Quotes from Spare

My comments are in the square brackets:

“I laughed, turned away, took a piss. Now the loo became a head too. The bowl was its gaping maw, the hinges of the seat were its piercing eyes. …. I finished, flushed, closed its mouth.”

[Prince Harry says he was high on drugs when this happened.]

“I heard the story of what Pa allegedly said to Mummy the day of
my birth: Wonderful! Now you’ve given me an Heir and a Spare—my work is done. A joke. Presumably. On the other hand, minutes after delivering this bit of high comedy, Pa was said to have gone off to meet with his girlfriend. So. Many a true word spoken in jest.”

[“Mummy”? What is it with adults calling their mothers “Mummy”? Sorry, but that’s weird. And his father is just “Pa”. Now we know where the love is.]

“Upon arriving home I’d been horrified to discover that my nether regions were frostnipped as well, and while the ears and cheeks were already healing, the todger wasn’t.”

“People warned me that the South Pole was even colder than the North. I laughed. How could that be possible? I’d already frozen my penis, mate—wasn’t that the very definition of worst-case scenario?”

[We really, really needed to know this. Not.]

“He assured me that people do stupid things, say stupid things, but it doesn’t need to be their intrinsic nature. I was showing my true nature, he said, by seeking to atone. Seeking absolution.”

[Absolution: formal release from guilt, obligation, or punishment; an ecclesiastical declaration of forgiveness of sins. So, Prince Harry sees his acts of stupidity as so important that he requires direct intervention with the Almighty. Hey, Prince Harry – stupidity isn’t murder. You don’t need forgiveness. You need to learn, and not do it again.]

“Recently, astronomers rearranged their biggest telescopes, aimed them at one tiny crevice in the cosmos, and managed to catch a glimpse of one breathtaking sphere, which they named Earendel, the Old English word for Morning Star. Billions of miles off, and probably long vanished, Earendel is closer to the Big Bang, the moment of Creation, than our own Milky Way, and yet it’s somehow still visible to mortal eyes because it’s just so awesomely bright and dazzling. That was my mother.”

[That does sound so devoted and loving, but he has only half the story: Ēarendel (note the correct spelling), Aurvandill in Old Norse, is a figure in Germanic mythology: The god Thor tossed Aurvandill’s frozen toe into the sky to form a star called Aurvandils-tá (‘Aurvandill’s toe’). In Common Germanic myths he is Auza-wandilaz, a figure which seems to have personified the
“rising light” of the morning, possibly referring to the Morning Star (Venus).
If I were Harry I’d also choose the Morning Star myth over the frozen toe myth.]

“With bagpipes it’s not the tune, it’s the tone.”

[Yep. That’s true.]

“Maybe money sits at the heart of every controversy about monarchy. Britain has long had trouble making up its mind. Many support the Crown, but many also feel anxious about the cost. That anxiety is increased by the fact that the cost is unknowable. Depends on who’s crunching the numbers. Does the Crown cost taxpayers? Yes. Does it also pay a fortune into government coffers? Also yes. Does the Crown generate tourism income that benefits all? Of course. Does it also rest upon lands obtained and secured when the system was unjust and wealth was generated by exploited workers and thuggery, annexation and enslaved people? Can anyone deny it?”

[If you feel that way, your Highness, would you give back the estimated £30 million (+/- $36,144,000) that you had accumulated by 2020, from being a member of the royal family and from your properties, and also your fees for writing Spare? (Source: Wikipedia, retrieved Feb. 3, 2023)]

“My problem has never been with the monarchy, nor the concept of monarchy. It’s been with the press and the sick relationship that’s evolved between it and the Palace.”

[Compare this statement with the previous one. Eh?!
You hate the press but you want them to give you lots of publicity. You can’t have it both ways, you know.]

“It occurred to me then that identity is a hierarchy. We are primarily one thing, and then we’re primarily another, and then another, and so on, until death- in succession. Each new identity assumes the throne of Self, but takes us further from our original self, perhaps our core self- the child. Yes, evolution, maturation, the path towards wisdom, it’s all natural and healthy, but there’s a purity to childhood, which is diluted with each iteration.”

[Whose Freudian/Jungian psychobabble is this?]

“All my life I’d heard jokes about the links between royal misbehaviour and centuries of inbreeding, but it was then that I realized: Lack of genetic diversity was nothing compared to press gaslighting.”

[“Gaslighting”: manipulating someone by psychological means to question their own sanity, from the 1944 film, Gaslight. So you’re saying the amorphous press has used psychological means, overriding your genetic make-up, to make you question your own sanity and to misbehave. Poor, poor, helpless bunny.]

“So, my number: Twenty-five. It wasn’t a number that gave me any satisfaction. But neither was it a number that made me feel ashamed. Naturally, I’d have preferred not to have that number on my military CV, on my mind, but by the same token I’d have preferred to live in a world in which there was no Taliban, a world without war. Even for an occasional practitioner of magical thinking like me, however, some realities just can’t be changed. While in the heat and fog of combat, I didn’t think of those twenty-five as people. You can’t kill people if you think of them as people. You can’t really harm people if you think of them as people. They were chess pieces removed from the board, Bads taken away before they could kill Goods. I’d been trained to “other-ize” them, trained well. On some level I recognized this learned detachment as problematic. But I also saw it as an unavoidable part of soldiering.”

[Your Highness, it’s not good to refer to yourself as “an occasional practitioner of magical thinking”. It pours doubt on the rest of your words about killing people.]

“It struck me at some point that the whole basis of education was memory. A list of names, a column of numbers, a mathematical formula, a beautiful poem—to learn it you had to upload it to the part of the brain that stored stuff, but that was the same part of my brain I was resisting. My memory had been spotty since Mummy disappeared, by design, and I didn’t want to fix it, because memory equaled grief. Not remembering was balm.”

“Being royal, it turned out, wasn’t all that far from being onstage. Acting was acting, no matter the context.”

[And there I was foolishly thinking that being a royal was all about public service and duty…you know, for getting all that money.]

“In a lifetime of existential crises, this was a bugger. Who are you when you can no longer be the thing you’ve always been, the thing you’ve trained to be?”

[Who are you Prince Harry? Not a writer, even though your ghost-writer made you look good.]

2 comments on “A Moan about a Supernumerary

  1. Bwahahaaa, ek hou van jou droë kommentaar!

  2. Dis nou ‘n boek wat so pynlik gevoelvol is dat dit eintlik baie snaaks is! 🫢

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