To put it mildly, there’s been a lot of hype about Prince Harry’s memoir, “Spare.” (Has any book had more?) This alone might dissuade you from reading the book. A possibly more palatable way to take in the prince’s rants, raves and war stories might be through his audiobook, narrated, as Harry says — with obvious pride, and a touch of defiance — “by me, the author.”
With haters posting audio clips on social media, you may feel as if you’ve already heard the book: the frostbite-on-the-todger section, the surreal losing-his-virginity-behind-a-pub paragraph. But what you may not pick up in these and other easily mocked clips is a certain appealing humility that underlies them, the prince showing himself to be self-deprecating and self-aware. Reading his own book, the Duke of Sussex comes off as an ordinary guy who hasn’t always been able to rise to the extraordinary demands of his life and his family — and he knows it. He’s willing to discuss his most idiotic mistakes and does so with rue, self-effacing humor and patent relief. He’s been wanting to speak his truth for a long time.
From earliest youth, Harry has had the cardinal rule of royalty drummed into him, “the family motto”: Never complain, never explain. Well, he’s had it with that. He now complains and explains, in rich and righteous detail, for 15 hours and 39 minutes. Finally, his side of the story.
Of course, Harry had help from a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, J.R. Moehringer, author of his own excellent memoir, “The Tender Bar,” and ghostwriter for Andre Agassi and Phil Knight. Reading the book on paper, you might notice the literary affectations — the one-sentence paragraphs, the super-short chapters, the occasional fancy phrase or five-dollar word — and have your doubts about Harry’s contribution. But when you hear the prince read the sentences aloud, it becomes clear how well Moehringer captured Harry’s delivery, his cadence, his quintessentially British vocabulary and phrasing, the loo rolls, biros, blokes and the rest of it. We say oREGano, he says oreGAHno — which he actually takes a moment to point out, in an aside.
It’s clear that Harry had a great time reading his memoir. He imitates his father’s clipped phrasing, belts out a line from Elton John’s “Your Song,” and takes his best shot at mimicking the Scottish brogue of his hunting mentor and the American accents of his fellow soldiers.
He even gamely voices sound effects. “We came to the last wooden bridge, the tires making that soothing lullaby I always associate with Scotland. Da dong, da dong … da dong, dong.” He really does a nice job on those da dongs. His husky voice is easy to listen to, and he puts plenty of feeling into his read. You hear the enthusiasm when he comes upon his favorite stories, and the resentment when he hits the angry parts. His fury at the media, whom he blames for the death of his mother and many of the worst moments of his life since, comes through every time he says “the paps,” his term for the paparazzi. His voice drips with rage.
On the other hand, when he talks about his wife, he gushes, a wide smile lighting up his delivery. When they set off to Botswana early on, he watches her open her suitcase: “Here it comes, I thought. The mirror, the hairdryer, the makeup kit, the fluffy duvet, the dozen pairs of shoes. … To my shock, and delight, there was nothing in that suitcase but bare essentials. Shorts, ripped jeans and snacks. And a yoga mat.” The rhapsody continues: “Every moment of that week was a revelation and a blessing.”
But he also knows how to use understatement, such as in the scene when “Pa” (as he calls his father, King Charles III) wakes him up to tell him his mother is dead — a tear-inducing moment he doesn’t milk or ham up. “They tried, darling boy, I’m afraid she didn’t make it. These phrases remain in my mind like darts in a board.” No break in his voice, no emoting, just the words.
It was another decade before he could bring himself to fully accept that his mother was dead, not just hiding in the Alps. Even police photos of the body didn’t quite convince him. Ultimately, during a visit to Paris in 2007, he asked a taxi driver to take him to the site of the crash. “I’d thought driving the tunnel would bring an end, or brief cessation, to the pain, the decade of unrelenting pain. Instead it brought on the start of Pain, Part Deux.” When you read the words on the page, what you notice is the somewhat ironic phrasing. “Pain, Part Deux.” But when you hear the words aloud, you notice the way he emphasizes the word “pain,” all three times. Here, he gives it its due.
Apparently, Harry had plenty of good advice in the studio. (Thirteen people are credited for help with the audiobook in the acknowledgments.) His director, Scott Sherratt, worked on the self-read memoirs of Bono, Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian. The prince is not a complete newbie, either: He has recorded narration for short films promoting his causes, HIV awareness and conservation.
In short, if you think you can bear to hear any more on this topic, I can guarantee you it’s more fun to let Harry tell you his story than to read the words on the page.
Marion Winik, a professor at the University of Baltimore, is host of the NPR podcast “The Weekly Reader” and the author of numerous books, including “First Comes Love” and “The Big Book of the Dead.”
By Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Random House Audio. 15½ hours.
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