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'The Princess Diarist', Carrie Fisher

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PREFACE: Carrie Fisher tragically died of a heart attack on December 27 2016, six days after I wrote this review. Dazzlingly talented, Carrie has left us a legacy of wonderful written work, as well as her performances in film and television. She had only just started writing advice columns for 'The Guardian', full of gentle, caring and constructive advice for young people facing bipolar disorder and other problems. And, of course, there's her funny and poignant 'sort of memoir', 'The Princess Diarist'. Here's my review:


Every year I indulge myself by buying a book to read on Boxing Day. Usually it’s an autobiography of the celebrity kind. In the past I’ve discovered some treasures including Dawn French’s 'Dear Fatty', William Shatner’s 'Up Till Now' and Mia Farrow’s 'What Falls Away'. I’ve also bought myself some duds (no names, no pack drill). A few weeks ago I happened upon an extract from Carrie Fisher’s 'The Princess Diarist' which was featured in 'The Guardian' (below). I started reading it, assuming it would be a typical celebrity tell-all about her recently revealed affair with Harrison Ford (which took place during the filming of 'Star Wars' in 1976). Instead I was riveted by the best writing I’ve encountered in a long time - funny, masterful and achingly poignant. 

Intrigued by the extract, I went off to the bookstore to get hold of the paperback, intending it to be my 2016 ‘Boxing Day book’. I’ll just have a quick browse, I told myself when I got home. But I couldn’t put the book down. And yes, I finished it in a single sitting.

In 1976 Carrie Fisher was nineteen, the daughter of a glamorous movie star, Debbie Reynolds, and the product of a broken home (her father, singer Eddie Fisher ran off with Elizabeth Taylor when Carrie was a toddler). So it’s not surprising that she had self-esteem issues and was looking for love. Harrison Ford was in his thirties and married.

When Fisher embarked on a relationship with the wryly taciturn Ford, she was under no illusion that when the filming ended, so would the affair. For his part, Ford didn’t promise her anything in return, just the pleasure of his company.

Although Fisher never raises the possibility in the book, I suspect Mr Ford might have fallen just a little in love with her during their affair. How could he not? Fisher was (and is) as witty as all get-out and the crew adored her. When sixty-year-old Carrie Fisher looks back at photos of herself from 1976, she can see that she was as ‘cute as a button’. At the time, however, her self-image was askew and she considered herself plain and chubby.

The first part of 'The Princess Diarist' is a narrative, while the latter portion includes diary extracts and poems, discovered when Fisher was going through a box of written work she'd forgotten about. It’s worth noting there are no sex scenes in the book - Fisher has made the wise choice to keep the private stuff just that.

You don’t need to be a 'Star Wars' fan to enjoy this memoir (or 'a sort of memoir' as she calls it on the cover). Anyone, who’s been nineteen and obsessively in love with someone who’s obliging but spoken for, will ache for Carrie Fisher. Reading her poems and diary entries from that period is like peering into her nineteen-year-old soul. In many ways, she was very brave in making her 'primary sources' public.  

On a technical level, Fisher is a consummate wordsmith. The text bursts off the page with its originality, humour and pathos. There are puns galore, but this is not an exercise in showing off; every element of word-play, every metaphor earns its place in the book.

If you’re waiting for a response to 'The Princess Diaries' from Harrison Ford, don’t hold your breath. Fisher’s sympathetic and engaging portrait of a very private man is perhaps as close as we’ll get to knowing the ‘real’ Ford. As for Ms Fisher, she’s been carrying a torch for Han Solo for the past forty years.

And who could blame her?

You can read an extract courtesy of 'The Guardian'.

 

Deborah O’Brien

21 December 2016