Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess

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9780451201089: Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess

"A tantalizing peek into the living museum that is European royalty and a portrait of Diana as a mentally ill princess."-Washington Post Book World

"If you're going to read one Diana book, this should be it."-Newsweek

"Diana in Search of Herself tempts us to look again at the iconic princess, whose boundless charm, energy, and warmth contrasted wildly with her mood swings, bulimia, and shaky sense of self, all of which Smith addresses in this balanced analysis of the most charismatic member of the British royal family."-Elle"Smith has done the best any responsible writer can-she has taken a fairy-tale princess and rendered her as a believable woman who, borderline personality or not, is somehow more likable for her struggle against psychological troubles."-Atlanta Journal & Constitution

"At once morbidly fascinating and profoundly sad...Princess Diana's life seems less a candle in the wind than an accident waiting to happen."-Boston Globe

"A chilling vision of loneliness, need and untreated mental illness."-USA Today

"She offers a fascinating account of Diana's aristocratic upbringing...She also provides perhaps the fullest account to date of Diana's half-dozen or so love affairs."-Dallas Morning News

"Compelling."-New York Daily News

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Review:

The Diana who was in search of herself was, according to this relatively beefy addition to the writings on the late princess, engaged in a futile exercise. Born after her parents tried three unsuccessful times to produce a male heir--two older sisters and a brother who died within hours of birth preceded Diana Spencer's arrival--she felt unwanted from the start. Her mother's abandonment of the family six years later compounded Diana's feelings of self-worthlessness. At a tender age, the girl who would grow up to be the beloved Princess of Wales had already irrevocably lost her sense of self. The book, which relies heavily on the accounts of anonymous intimates of the late princess, describes her as a deeply conflicted character. A friend is quoted as saying, "Her dark side was that of a wounded trapped animal ... and her bright side was that of a luminous being." The strikingly tall, blond princess who cradled young cancer victims and graciously accepted flowers from admirers, who frolicked on camera with her young sons and flashed her sparkling smile as she exited limousines, was often sulky, depressed, and vengeful in private. "Why?" one might wonder--if volumes hadn't already been written about the awful truth of her life.

Author Sally Bedell Smith revisits the well-trod ground of Charles's continuing love affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, Diana's intimidation by her royal in-laws, and her push-me, pull-me relationship with the voracious paparazzi. In addition, she details Diana's numerous love affairs and her acts of self-mutilation and bizarre behavior, such as the incident in which she tap-danced alone in her room until she wore down the wood parquet. Prince Charles comes off as a sympathetic if somewhat wimpy character, while, as the book progresses, Diana grows into a woman navigating the fine line between neurosis and full-blown psychosis. At the time of her marriage, the princess is quoted as saying she was "so in love with my husband that I couldn't take my eyes off him. I just absolutely thought I was the luckiest girl in the world." Years later, she would recall this same day thus: "The day I walked down the aisle at St. Paul's Cathedral, I felt that my personality was taken away from me, and I was taken over by the royal machine." Her bulimia (even while pregnant with Prince William), paranoia, lying, and flightiness are all confirmed in Smith's tome but they are commingled with testimonials to the late princess's generosity, intuition, genuine warmth, and ability to put anyone at ease. Diana was fine--to wit sane--as long as she was in a safe environment. The bosom of the royal family was not one of those havens. But she wasn't a passive victim--her famous comment about her marriage being overcrowded, involving three people, presumably herself, the prince, and Parker Bowles--wasn't quite true, as she was also having an affair at the time, bringing the number up to four.

All of these excruciating details--including Smith's analysis of how long the Dodi and Diana match would have lasted, had they not been killed that night in Paris--seem to be carefully researched and attributed when the source allows it, and build to the grand crescendo of the book, in which Smith proffers her diagnosis of the princess's mental health. The punchline here is that the tabloid assertions that hounded Diana throughout her lifetime, asserting that she was "loony," "potty," a "basket case," or "barking mad," may have held more than a kernel of truth. But if the princess was as expert a manipulator as the book suggests, no one, it seems, could ever hope to know the whole truth. --Jordana Moskowitz

From the Inside Flap:

Diana in Search of Herself is the first authoritative biography of one of the most fabled women of the century. Even those who knew Princess Diana will be surprised by author Sally Bedell Smith's insightful and haunting portrait of Diana's inner life.

For all that has been written about Diana--the books, the commemorative magazines, the thousands of newspaper articles--we have lacked a sophisticated understanding of the woman, her motivations, and her extreme needs. Most books have been exercises in hagiography or character assassination, sometimes both in the same volume. Sally Bedell Smith, the acclaimed biographer, former New York Times reporter, and Vanity Fair contributing editor, has written the first truly balanced and nuanced portrait of the Princess of Wales, in all her emotional complexity.

Drawing on scores of interviews with friends and associates who had not previously talked about Diana, Ms. Smith explores the events and relationships that shaped the Princess, the flashpoints that sent her careening through life, her deep feelings of unworthiness, her view of men, and her perpetual journey toward a better sense of self. By making connections not previously explored, this book allows readers to see Diana as she really was, from her birth to her tragic death.

Original in its reporting and surprising in its conclusions about the severity of Diana's mental-health problems, Diana in Search of Herself is the smartest and most substantive biography ever written about this mesmerizing woman.

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