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The Diana Chronicles    by Tina Brown order for
Diana Chronicles
by Tina Brown
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

What has caught and held the public imagination for so long, and why the ongoing fascination with Princess Diana, who was in many ways an ordinary young woman, a mix of the usual strengths and vulnerabilities? Perhaps it is that everywoman quality - as well as the compassion for others that she showed so often - that has resulted in the ongoing public empathy with her situation, and extreme reaction to her death. Those caught up in Dianamania, and even those with only a peripheral interest, will find much food for thought in a recent - and very balanced - biography, The Diana Chronicles from Tina Brown.

Brown begins her insightful memoir on the last day of Diana's life, commenting that 'It is one of the saddest ironies of her life that just when she was on the point of casting off the most toxic elements of celebrity culture and using her fame as collateral for daring social activism she should be locked by death in a freeze-frame of deadly glitz.' She then takes us back through the early years and the ones that we all shared in some fashion through the media, with catchy chapter titles including The Super Sloane, The Quest for a Virgin Bride, Dynasty Di, Sex, Lies and Audiotapes, The Last Picture Show, and Remember Me.

Discussing Diana's grandmother, Lady Ruth Fermoy - who pushed hard for her granddaughter's marriage to the heir to the throne - Brown paints an amusing but stark picture of the lives of 'British upper-class women of the prewar generation' as being ones 'of low emotional expectations and husbands who were focused on being inattentive.' She also emphasizes 'that the more Prince Charles fell in love with his mistress, the more pressing it was for the Palace to produce someone to replace her. The arc of Diana's ascendance in Charles's life was thus always entwined with the arc of Camilla's.'

Brown discusses the 'immensity of Diana's star quality' which upstaged her husband on every occasion, reminding readers that 'The Prince wasn't raised to be the backstage handler of a turbulent child star.' She speaks of the Princess wanting 'her boys raised as Oshkosh kids, not Little Lord Fauntleroys.' Reflecting on the lack of support Diana had from her own family during 'all the screaming and cutting and bingeing and starving', Brown suggests that the 'Spencer and Fermoy women seem to have matched the Windsors round for round in self-absorption.' And she talks of how Charles was mocked over issues that now 'are not just relevant but cutting-edge.'

There's a lot more - the audiotapes, the book, the friendship with Fergie, the land-mine activism, and finally the outouring of grief over the 'death of an aristocratic girl who became a princess but refused to let palace walls enclose her', whose life was 'vivid and meaningful for all its imperfections' - all presented with thorough research and strong empathy. I highly recommend Tina Brown's Diana Chronicles, which left me feeling a great sadness for all concerned.

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