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Spare: Review – They’re Overqualified.

I read the book, all 15 hours. It was the best autobiography I’ve read in a long time. I’m not a Royal watcher although I’ve watched The Crown, more from a historical, feminist perspective. Queen Elizabeth II had a pretty interesting life but she lived it in a cage and tried very hard to never give her opinion on anything. The duty she pledged to her country and commonwealth meant she had to cut back in other areas of her life. That seems to have had a trickle down effect.

This book is about Harry, the spare. His role was to be a backup to his brother. He wasn’t supposed to shine or have a career of his own. He was just supposed to wait around until or if he was needed, including providing organs.

The thing is, he’s interesting. His book wouldn’t be a best seller if it was boring. Unlike a lot of autobiographies, Harry has a character arc. He recites his flaws. He’s not bookish. He’s done some pretty stupid things like wearing a nazi uniform to a costume party, getting naked in Las Vegas, and not wearing enough thermal underwear at the North Pole. So he’s not perfect and never claims to be. But he learns from all his experiences, he atones, he grows as a person.

The weird thing is that Harry seems to have a calling. He wants to serve his country, he wants to fly apaches, he wants to test himself, he wants to help other wounded service people. He’s got so much on his plate and the drive to do them. And he’s a romantic, wishing someday that his princess would come.

I think the saddest part of his autobiography is not so much his inability to come to terms with his mother’s death. The saddest thing is his wanting to belong to a family and being pushed out of his own. He finds belonging in the outback, the army, and in Africa. He wanted to be included in his brother’s family and his extended family. But over the years, his living arrangements at the various palaces get pushed further and further from the inner circle until he has literally been pushed into the staff quarters.

As William settles into his role as crown prince and his life falls into place without even trying, Harry has to make his way in the world, define himself, do things that he finds difficult. He challenges himself and comes back to England from Afghanistan battle tested. He’s become an alpha and William starts to get irritable that Harry isn’t showing him the proper deference. He’s not relying on William’s beneficence. He’s like… his own person.

When Harry met Meghan, it was love at first sight. Enough said about that except that they oddly have the same approach to life. They have purpose. They are direct. They bow to no one.

So, that’s a problem.

They’re also overqualified for the positions they are in as senior members of the royal family. They have a sort of gravitas that comes from testing themselves outside the royal family. Harry has his mother’s touch in being empathic and relatable. Meghan studied international studies at Northwestern and had already taken on service projects of her own. Her acting experience gave her confidence, poise and made her an asset as a speaker. The camera loves her face.

Being spares gave them a certain kind of freedom that William and Kate don’t have. Or wouldn’t know what to do with anyway.

Sibling rivalry is a lifelong theme. Harry has no ambition for the crown. Willam’s safe in that regard. But there is competition for who is the better man. And when it comes to the Royal family, there can be only one king, one crown prince. One person captures the flag just because he was born first. There seems to be some assumption on William’s part that being the better man follows suit. it seems to come as a surprise to him that his brother, the family screw up, might be competition.

The thing about this book is Harry is insightful. He lays out the pieces methodically and then puts them together. Envy and insecurity are dangerous feelings. Weirdly, they’re not part of Harry’s makeup. He’s got anxiety. He’s frustrated. He has panic attacks. But at no point in this book did I feel like wanted to be anyone but who he is. It’s just that he doesn’t define himself as his brother’s spare kidney or fall guy decoy.

The toxic family pattern comes into focus throughout the book. The main actors are there along with the flying monkeys and enablers. The tragedy in all this is throwing Harry and Meghan to the wolves in order to save other more “dignified” members of the family from scrutiny. Harry’s role was to allow the royal family to play up his flaws so that the press wouldn’t focus on the other seniors.

That’s what all of the distancing was about over the years, the putting baby in the corner, the exclusion from William and Kate’s society so that Harry always felt like a third wheel, bewildered at the isolation from the brother who was his closest ally since his mother died. It makes it so much easier to put all the negative press and spotlight on someone who you don’t feel close to. It was bad enough before Meghan. But after Meghan, it got so much worse because the royal family members themselves actively participated in a smear campaign against her. Well, they’re only spares. What’s the harm?

The good news is that the smear campaign only takes up the last third of the book. The first 2/3rds is all about Harry, his amazing experiences both sacred and profane. And funny. And sad. His longing for his mother is on almost every page.

It’s brilliant.

Highly recommended. You can clean your house on this book and not even realize it.


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