REVIEW: The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher

The Princess Diarist

Author: Carrie Fisher

UK Publisher: Penguin

Genre: memoir, non-fiction

I was really looking forward to reading this book, but it was always going to be a hard one to review. Carrie Fisher is so well-loved, and particularly since her far-too-early death has become a symbol of feminism, resistance and outspokenness about social attitudes to mental health and women’s physical appearances.

This memoir was prompted by the discovery of diaries she had kept during the filming of the first Star Wars film. It is entirely focused on her memories of that time, her older voice book-ending the excerpts from her diaries. This is also the book where Fisher reveals her affair with Harrison Ford during, and a large portion of the narrative deals with that specific relationship more than anything else, as this was clearly something which coloured her memories of the filming.

I personally enjoyed her modern reflections on the time more than the contemporaneous diary entries. In her narrative she is frank, and open and engaging, and offers some insight into how bizarre the whole situation was with the perspective of age and more comfort and understanding of her own mind. The more I read of her perspective on both the filming at the time, and the fandom which grew out of it.

Fisher writes like she speaks, confidently following her train of thought no matter where it takes her, eventually winding her way back to her original point. The tangents are delightful and show a lot of her personality. Certainly, finishing this book, I wanted to go out and read more of her works – I knew she had written other memoirs, but I had not realised she had also written a number of novels.

One theme that repeats throughout the book, and which I found both amusing and a little saddening, were all the asides to her breasts and figure. She discusses a film she was in before Star Wars where they decided her character should go bra-less, and the story of George Lucas telling her she could not wear a bra in Star Wars is now infamous, as well as her feelings towards the bikini. These little comments and asides talk about the proprietary nature with which directors viewed her body, and then the way men in general viewed her as they felt the need to approach her continually afterwards to tell her about their private fantasies. Whilst this is, strictly speaking, not a book that is marketed as feminist, this recurring theme and Fisher’s attitudes towards it – by this stage, resignation and humorous acceptance, whilst claiming ownership over her older figure and refusing to apologise for ageing – are certainly issues which fall within the boundaries of feminism and male entitlement towards women’s sexuality. Entitlement which is, in this, so deeply ingrained it becomes casual.

The tone of the book as Fisher talks about both her younger self, and the character of Leia, is wonderfully affectionate and warm. She doesn’t make excuses for her behaviour, nor does she seem to try to portray herself as a victim or blameless, but she seems to have few regrets and is happy with that. And the way she is so tied up in the character of Leia makes me happy – it is easy to assume actors can become jaded with constantly being associated with a single character, and certainly Fisher discusses that, but she acknowledges Leia is now an integral part of her, and she is protective over her.

The main takeaway from her diaries, for me, is how eloquent and literary she was at 19. I look back at my writing at 19 and shudder, but her diaries and poems are fluent and mature, and certainly show levels of self-awareness that I didn’t possess at that age.

Mainly, the focus of the narrative is on the first film, and on her relationship with Harrison, and the unexpected success of the movie. I would have really liked to have seen more reflection from her about the later films, and of her friendship with Mark Hamill, however the book was structured around her diaries which seem to have been entirely written during the first film. Had she lived longer, maybe we would have seen reflections on Episodes V and VI, but I suspect not. The impression I gather from this is that Episode IV was unique for her in a lot of ways – the huge change it made to her life with its unexpected success, the first prominent movie role she undertook, the nature of her affair and how that preoccupied her. Following that, I suspect the sequels had very little to report.

Briefly:

  • A funny, self-deprecating and warm memoir, showing a clear affection for the character and franchise, even as she pokes fun at it.
  • Fisher is an eloquent writer, and this is a light and easy read.
  • By the end, I felt like I wanted more – more information about her time on the films, and perhaps just more time with Fisher herself.
  • For me, it definitely made me want to read more of her work – both her memoirs and her novels.

Rating: 4/5 – I am not sure about the re-read factor of this, as I do not often re-read non-fiction, but it would be perfect holiday reading.

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