The Diana who was in search of herself was, according to this relatively beefy addition to the writings on the late princess, engaged in a futile exercise. Born after her parents tried three unsuccessful times to produce a male heir--two older sisters and a brother who died within hours of birth preceded Diana Spencer's arrival--she felt unwanted from the start. Her mother's abandonment of the family six years later compounded Diana's feelings of self-worthlessness. At a tender age, the girl who would grow up to be the beloved Princess of Wales had already irrevocably lost her sense of self. The book, which relies heavily on the accounts of anonymous intimates of the late princess, describes her as a deeply conflicted character. A friend is quoted as saying, "Her dark side was that of a wounded trapped animal ... and her bright side was that of a luminous being." The strikingly tall, blond princess who cradled young cancer victims and graciously accepted flowers from admirers, who frolicked on camera with her young sons and flashed her sparkling smile as she exited limousines, was often sulky, depressed, and vengeful in private. "Why?" one might wonder--if volumes hadn't already been written about the awful truth of her life.
Author Sally Bedell Smith revisits the well-trod ground of Charles's continuing love affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, Diana's intimidation by her royal in-laws, and her push-me, pull-me relationship with the voracious paparazzi. In addition, she details Diana's numerous love affairs and her acts of self-mutilation and bizarre behavior, such as the incident in which she tap-danced alone in her room until she wore down the wood parquet. Prince Charles comes off as a sympathetic if somewhat wimpy character, while, as the book progresses, Diana grows into a woman navigating the fine line between neurosis and full-blown psychosis. At the time of her marriage, the princess is quoted as saying she was "so in love with my husband that I couldn't take my eyes off him. I just absolutely thought I was the luckiest girl in the world." Years later, she would recall this same day thus: "The day I walked down the aisle at St. Paul's Cathedral, I felt that my personality was taken away from me, and I was taken over by the royal machine." Her bulimia (even while pregnant with Prince William), paranoia, lying, and flightiness are all confirmed in Smith's tome but they are commingled with testimonials to the late princess's generosity, intuition, genuine warmth, and ability to put anyone at ease. Diana was fine--to wit sane--as long as she was in a safe environment. The bosom of the royal family was not one of those havens. But she wasn't a passive victim--her famous comment about her marriage being overcrowded, involving three people, presumably herself, the prince, and Parker Bowles--wasn't quite true, as she was also having an affair at the time, bringing the number up to four.
All of these excruciating details--including Smith's analysis of how long the Dodi and Diana match would have lasted, had they not been killed that night in Paris--seem to be carefully researched and attributed when the source allows it, and build to the grand crescendo of the book, in which Smith proffers her diagnosis of the princess's mental health. The punchline here is that the tabloid assertions that hounded Diana throughout her lifetime, asserting that she was "loony," "potty," a "basket case," or "barking mad," may have held more than a kernel of truth. But if the princess was as expert a manipulator as the book suggests, no one, it seems, could ever hope to know the whole truth. --Jordana Moskowitz
From Publishers Weekly
Devotees who remember Princess Diana as a beautiful, warm-hearted mother dedicated to good works, whom an adulterous husband and the British Royal family unfairly victimized, will find little comfort in this treatment of her life. Smith relentlessly but convincingly portrays Diana as a woman with severe psychological problems (characterized here as a "borderline personality") who never overcame a serious eating disorder and was unable to sustain relationships. Based on research and interviews with Diana's friends, Smith (Reflected Glory: The Life of Pamela Harriman) carefully presents Diana's childhood as darkened by divorce and neglect, leaving Diana with deep feelings of unworthiness; by the time of her marriage she was, Smith contends, not only a bulimic but also a pathological liar. According to Smith, Prince Charles had completely severed relations with Camilla Parker-Bowles out of determination to make his marriage work, and did not revive his affair with her until the relationship with his wife fell apart. Diana, certain that Charles was still seeing Camilla from the date of their wedding, retaliated with a series of tawdry romances, and also engaged in self-mutilation, binge eating and other erratic behaviors that alienated Charles. Though Smith acknowledges that the princess dearly loved her sons, she also describes occasions when Diana placed emotional demands on them that they were too young to handle. This is a sharply etched and engrossing study of an insecure and emotionally damaged woman coming apart at the seams. Photos not seen by PW. 11-city tour; 20-city TV and radio satellite tour. First serial to People magazine. (Sept.)
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