Title: The Princess Diarist (2016)
Author: Carrie Fisher
Read: 24th July – 3rd August
Genre: non-fiction; memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford. With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes. Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.” (Synopsis from publisher)
“If you look at the person someone chooses to have a relationship with, you’ll see what they think of themselves.”
I have a confession: I’ve never really been one for random “celebrity memoirs” – generally I only read them if I have some kind of vested interest in the individual writing it. I read Lauren Graham’s Talking As Fast As I Can because I am a big Gilmore Girls fan, I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants because I have enjoyed her comedic roles – I have Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody, Mara Wilson’s Where I Am Now?, and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please on my TBR list to read at some point in the future. The Princess Diarist, however, wasn’t really a book I planned on picking up – it crossed my radar a few times and I liked Carrie Fisher’s general ‘fuck it’ attitude which she exuded at events and during interviews, but I wasn’t ever the biggest Star Wars fan or particularly interested in any behind-the-scenes gossip from its set.
” ‘I’m a hick,’ I recall saying to him. ‘No,’ Harrison answered. ‘You think you’re less than you are. You’re a smart hick.’ And then, ‘You have the eyes of a doe and the balls of a samurai.’ “
I don’t think any of that matters – I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Carrie read snippets from the diaries she kept during the filming of the Star Wars films, and audiobook really is the ultimate (and best) way to experience this book. The book is tinged with a somewhat bittersweet taste, given that Carrie Fisher is no longer with us, but it’s nice that this memoir is a way of preserving not only her oh so dramatic teenage thoughts and feelings but also her older, retrospective self’s side-glance at this teenage self for being so utterly overwhelmed and enamoured with her time filming Star Wars and one co-star in particular. You can hear the sympathy and pity she has for her younger self’s naivety in the tone of her narration, and it’s especially present in the audiobook version.
“It’s not nice being inside my head. It’s a nice place to visit but I don’t want to live in here. It’s too crowded; too many traps and pitfalls.”
Carrie Fisher isn’t one to hold back – when she says she’s going to tell you what happened between her and Harrison Ford, she tells you. Her bolshy, ballsy personality clearly was built up by her teenage self as a sense of self-preservation, a fake-it-til-you-make-it in an industry that can be particularly critical and unfeeling towards young women, if they let it. Thick skin is needed at all times, and I think this is something that I most enjoyed reading about – she isn’t perfect, a lot of the things her younger self thought and did are probably problematic, but she doesn’t try to paint herself as Miss Perfect Who Didn’t Do Any Wrong, she just points out that maybe she was too young to be playing at being a Grown Up and found herself part of something that was just so much bigger than someone of her age should have been. Obviously it’s only in retrospect, and with a little of what I believe they call “life experience”, that you realise that some of the decisions you made as a teenager maybe weren’t the best decisions ever, but they got you to where you are now, in a funky, roundabout way.
“Sold to the man for the price of disdain
Some are sold for a song
I don’t rate a refrain.”
The ‘Notes from his periphery, or the glib martyr’ section of this book was altogether unexpected, and I found it utterly heartbreaking to read/listen to. It’s clear that the inspiration for a lot of these poems and vignettes was her affair with Harrison Ford but, if something is so all-consuming and intrinsic to your self-esteem during that formative time in your life, it’s hardly a surprise to find that it bleeds over into your art. What amazed me was the intelligence and wit within this poetry, especially given the relatively young age at which Fisher penned it, and the sense of raw emotion and honesty behind the words on the page. I didn’t expect to have my heart utterly broken by Carrie Fisher’s poetry but there I was, listening to an audiobook and almost crying at my desk.
“The man sitting alone so silent and strong
So what if you’re attracted for all the wrong reasons
So what if you reasoning’s wrong
Call his indifference mystery
Call his arrogance intellect
All you’ve got to lose is your heart
And a little self-respect.”
As someone who knew very little about Carrie Fisher beforehand, I adored hearing these snippets into her past (and present) via The Princess Diarist. She brings it right up to date by discussing the absurdity and passion that is the Star Wars fandom and how much it means to people around the world, and how ill equipped she sometimes felt when faced with this at conventions and signings. I didn’t expect to gain an insight into the entire convention scene from that point of view, or expect to realise suddenly just how alienating and bizarre it must seem for the actors who, as far as they knew, were just making a little film somewhere on a set in Elstree Studios in the 70s. They couldn’t possibly have predicted the impact their little film would have had on so many people’s lives, and I couldn’t possibly have predicted prior to reading this book that I would find myself utterly heartbroken all over again that Carrie is no longer with us.
“If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumorously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire afterlife blushing.”