The Palace Papers: forbidden pleasures with Tina Brown

I find myself conflicted.

I am not a royalist but I do admire Elizabeth.

Tina Brown’s book The Palace Papers is brilliantly timed.

Don Lemon mentioned her book during CNN’s coverage of Elizabeth’s passing and Charles ascension to the throne. While it wouldn’t appear opportunistic on the surface, come to think of it a book that appeared in 2022 when the Queen was in her mid-90s had a good chance of being a valuable resource when she died.

This is the Tina Brown of Vanity Fair, who led the magazine through some of its greatest years, covering famous people. I devoured every issue.

We might want to contrast the high-quality prose & glossy photography in its pages with the ugly culture of paparazzi and the tacky publications pushing them to get invasive pictures, pursuing Lady Diana on motorbikes. They’re widely blamed for killing the mother of the Princes Harry & William. I believe it’s really the same impulse. Brown writes better, her photographers at Vanity Fair took classier shots.

But the hunger is ultimately the same, meaning our hunger: for news, details, dirt. Whether I eat a Big Mac or caviar, it’s still food.

No I’m not making some sort of smart-ass intellectualization. When I started reading Brown’s book, I was momentarily troubled, having enjoyed the rituals of mourning on TV this week.

Part of me noticed her excellent writing, her impeccable way with attributions of sources. Brown is the best in the business.

But in the first few pages I was wondering if I could handle the book, because part of me shivers with revulsion at the tone. When we write about the British Royal Family, we’re entering a domain that is the most fundamental exploration of class one can imagine.

Today we watched people lining up, to walk past the coffin of Elizabeth II. I don’t think this is something crude to be mocked. It’s a beautiful thing even if it’s not what I would do as a Canadian living far away. Perhaps I’d feel differently had I grown up in the UK instead of Canada. What I feel only matters as far as you may suspect my motives. I liked Queen Elizabeth, troubled by what I saw portrayed in the film The Queen (2006) even if it’s likely accurate (and confirmed by Brown btw). I pitied her for what she endured even if I can also be upset with the royals for what they did to poor Diana.

The thing is, I always felt troubled by people who might mock you for using the wrong fork, for looking down their nose if your tie wasn’t tied correctly or if your shoes weren’t sufficiently shiny.

I find there’s something of this in Brown’s prose, as she seems ready to mock those with upward aspirations, indeed to mock everyone at some point or other if they take a wrong step. Perhaps she’s right, but right now I’m just not in the mood. I find the camera eye too invasive, and this prose pushes my buttons, still feeling guilty for Diana even now.

If you’re looking for the true dirt on the Royals you might love this book. If you’re a royalist perhaps you will be upset by what she’s saying even if it’s the truth. I repeat, I’m conflicted. Maybe it’s just my timing, that I’m fascinated by the stiff proper deportment of funerals and regal procedure. Watching the processions & listening to the music I was thinking of Berlioz, who had such an ear for the big public spectacle: which we never see anymore. If nothing else the broadcasts remind me of the past use of big massed bands for their emotional impact. I guess I’m a sucker for that.

I will probably finish the book, but for now have found it rubs me the wrong way and have stopped reading.

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