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Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret

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“Rollicking, irresistible, un-put-downable . . . For anyone . . . who swooned to Netflix’s The Crown , this book will be manna from heaven.” —Hamish Bowles, Vogue

“ Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a brilliant, eccentric treat. ” —Anna Mundow, The Wall Street Journal

“ I ripped through the book with the avidity of Margaret attacking her morning vodka and orange juice . . . The wisdom of the book, and the artistry, is in how Brown subtly expands his lens from Margaret’s misbehavior . . . to those who gawked at her, who huddled around her, pens poised over their diaries, hoping for the show she never denied them. ” —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

“Brown has done something astonishing: He makes the reader care, even sympathize, with perhaps the last subject worthy of such affection . . . His book is big fun, equal measures insightful and hysterical. ” —Karen Heller, The Washington Post

A witty and profound portrait of the most talked-about English royal

She made John Lennon blush and Marlon Brando tongue-tied. She iced out Princess Diana and humiliated Elizabeth Taylor. Andy Warhol photographed her. Jack Nicholson offered her cocaine. Gore Vidal revered her. Francis Bacon heckled her. Peter Sellers was madly in love with her. For Pablo Picasso, she was the object of sexual fantasy.

Princess Margaret aroused passion and indignation in equal measures. To her friends, she was witty and regal. To her enemies, she was rude and demanding. In her 1950s heyday, she was seen as one of the most glamorous and desirable women in the world. By the time of her death in 2002, she had come to personify disappointment. One friend said he had never known an unhappier woman. The tale of Princess Margaret is Cinderella in reverse: hope dashed, happiness mislaid, life mishandled.

Such an enigmatic and divisive figure demands a reckoning that is far from the usual fare. Combining interviews, parodies, dreams, parallel lives, diaries, announcements, lists, catalogues, and essays, Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography and a witty meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.

434 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 21, 2017

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About the author

Craig Brown

28 books70 followers
Craig Edward Moncrieff Brown (born 23 May 1957, Hayes, Middlesex) is a British critic and satirist from England, probably best known for his work in British magazine Private Eye.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,062 reviews
June 17, 2018
From beginning to end a total hatchet job on the late Princess Margaret, or Priceless Margarine as John Lennon called her, less nasty perhaps than another of her nicknames, The Royal Dwarf.* The book is extremely funny and is about 95% based on printed material, letters and interviews. 5% of it is invented utter rubbish, like her marriage to Picasso or Captain Peter Townsend. No one it seems had a good word to say about the imperious Margot, perhaps because she would pull rank on them and they never got the last word. Elizabeth Taylor was the exception, she got it and there was no possible comeback.

(*Princess Margaret was a shade over 5'0", her husband Lord Snowdon was 5'5, the Queen Mother was 5'1.5" and the Queen is 5'4". If you are 5'2" like me then these are ok, but for those who are taller, we are Short People!)

When Richard Burton bought Liz Taylor the huge Krupp diamond, Princess Margaret who did not get along with Taylor pronounced the ring as "the most vulgar thing I've ever seen". This reached Taylor's ears and when she was presented to Princess Margaret at a party, she asked the Princess if she would like to try the ring on? Princess Margaret did so and Liz Taylor remarked, "Doesn't look so vulgar now, does it?"

The only piece of wisdom in the entire book was this,

"The Queen has managed to avoid saying anything striking or memorable to anyone. This is an achievement, not a failing: it was her duty and destiny to be dull, to be as useful and undemonstrative as a postage stamp, her life dedicated to the near impossible task of saying nothing of interest."

After Princess Margaret's death, there was an outpouring not of kind words, but the utter nastiness people felt towards a woman who insisted on royal protocol at all times, meaning at a dinner no one could drink or eat until she did, and no one could leave until she did. And she was famous for turning up hours late, and wanting to drink and chain smoke and not eat until everything was ruined and then hang around drinking some more until 4 a.m. She really pissed everyone, but a very few "good friends" off.

I really enjoyed this book. It's anything but a balanced portrait, but all the better for that!
Profile Image for Heidi.
1,211 reviews133 followers
May 30, 2019
Its title should have been: 99 Ways to Hate on Princess Margaret.

I made it two-thirds through and I’m done. Poor little Royal rich girl meets mean biographer.

It is no surprise that Princess Margaret was a mostly unhappy person. Royalty or not, being #2 in that family must have been awful. But she also made it very difficult to be liked. I doubt as she aged she was any easier to really know. Odd that her children don’t have any anecdotes in their voice. Might have spoiled the view— again this is not fun to read unless bitchy remarks from her inner circle are fun to read.

Maybe because I’m an American (or born so much later than her), I can’t fully enjoy this bio. Too many names and places that have no meaning to me (okay, Gore Vidal, Peter Sellers and Noel Coward’s recollections are interesting) and so damn catty. There were times I really felt bad for Princess Margaret. Damned if she did and damned if she didn’t.

And what an unorganized mess— all over the place and no chronological order which painted a much more off-kilter portrait of her. Possibly that was the idea but I didn’t find it insightful, just a tad bit more pathetic.

I think I’ll stick with episodes of The Crown to get my royal fix.

PS— I really hated the chapters which featured Margaret making a different choice than she actually did. Dream sequences would be one way to describe them. Somehow they were both confusing and mean-spirited. A ploy that didn’t work for me.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,638 reviews598 followers
June 24, 2018
I loved Craig Brown’s previous book, “One on One,” and so, although a biography of Princess Margaret did not particularly appeal; having heard so many good things about this unusual biography, I decided to give it a try. Subtitled, “99 glimpses of Princess Margaret,” this book has 99 chapters – some short, some longer. Unlike most biographies, this skips across time, backtracks and even veers into fantasy, at times. For example, there is an inspired piece about Princess Margaret marrying Pablo Picasso, who was obsessed with her. In reality, she was disgusted when she heard about his feelings.

Princess Margaret often shows disgust in this book – along with boredom, impatience, dislike, petulance, snobbery, waspishness and extreme inconsiderateness. Unlike her sister, the Queen, who tried (and presumably still does) to put people at ease, Princess Margaret was quite happy to make her unhappiness, and demands, known. A stickler for protocol – apparently even pointed out to her own children – she was all too aware that people could not eat until she did, leave until she left, sit unless she sat – and she delighted in taking full advantage of this. Arriving late, gobbling her food and then finishing so guests were left with half their dinner still on their plate, outstaying her welcome and being such a demanding, snappy and unpleasant guest that you wonder anyone wanted to gain an invite to dine with her. Of course, though, the lure of royalty led many to want to meet her and to relish being ‘presented’ to the royal presence.

She did have friends, true friends, who seemed to care about her. However, mostly she was attracted by the bohemian set – who delighted in her acting up, and gleefully reported her bad behaviour in diaries, with an eye on publication. This book abounds with the famous and, at times, the infamous. We hear of Elizabeth Taylor, the Beatles, Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Tynan, Mick Jagger – and on and on and on. There are love affairs – the well known agreement that she would not marry the older, divorced, Captain Peter Townsend, for example. The marriage, and divorce, to the later Lord Snowdon and other love affairs. You do feel sorry for her, with Snowdon, in particular, seeming to delight in tormenting his wife. There is also her relationship with the other members of the royal family. She seems to have accepted most of her sister’s commands; such as who could, and could not, attend her birthday parties. However, she was less than impressed with both Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson and made her feelings very clear, when both may have imagined she would have been more sympathetic to their own marital failures than most.

Overall, this is a fascinating portrait of a women, who despite her sheer awfulness, does demand some sympathy from the reader. In a difficult position – royal, but slipping down the order of succession to the throne with every marriage and birth – she was criticised for not undertaking more royal duties. Time made the public, and press, less forgiving. She expected the protocol and respect of her childhood and failed to receive it in a less deferential era. Those around her were wary, never quite relaxed. Meanwhile, with those around her – from a former governess, to a footman, to ‘friends,’ putting her words and life into print – she could be forgiven for not relaxing thoroughly either. I find that, having read this, I miss the verbally vicious, over-bearing Princess Margaret. She may have spent most of her life with a cigarette in one hand and whisky in the other (while hosts panicked over which brand she would like), but she had a lot of boredom to endure in a basically unfulfilled life. This is both a cruel portrait and yet also shows the drudgery of the royal life and the criticism that always seems to follow public figures. Her sense of duty seemed somewhat forced. Archly, she informed the producer of the Archers, who asked her whether she could sound as though she was enjoying herself more, when pretending to take place in an official engagement, “well, I wouldn’t be, would I?!” Perhaps that one line says more than anything about her life. A clever, inventive and excellent read.
Profile Image for Melindam.
631 reviews273 followers
February 11, 2023
“It is Cinderella in reverse. It is hope dashed, happiness mislaid, life mishandled. Nothing is as thrilling as they said it would be: no one is amusing, as clever, as attractive or as interesting. The sun never shines as bright as it used to, and even the fiercest thunderstorm lacks any real sense of drama or pizzaz. As the curtain falls, Group Captain Charming has left her for someone more suitable and has gone to live in France, and Buttons, in his zip-up jumpsuit, has taken up with a wearying succession of younger lovers. When Cinderella dies, her little glass slipper is put up for auction, a memento of days of hope and innocence. The catalogue entry reads: 'Only worn once.”

3 - 3,5 intriguing, sad-funny-grotesque stars

Narrator Eleanor Bron made the most of this, but probably it would have worked better in print.

As the title suggests, this is not a full-blown biography, but rather a kaleidoscope of facts, diary entries, impressions, images, memories, gossip and strange imaginings (what if the princess' had taken this or that directon) well shaken and as you are rotating it, different patterns and aspects are offered for your interpretation.

And you are required to make your own interpretation: the author very much expects you to work hard on thid. It seems he is distancing himself from his subject, or at least to me he appeared detached and impersonal. You have no idea what he really thinks of the princess, which both feels right and yet strange.

Craig Brown says about his own book and biographies in general that "Biography is at the mercy of information, and information about the Royal Family is seldom there when you want it. Or rather, there is a wealth of information, but most of it is window-dressing: the shop itself is shut, visible only through the front window, its private offices firmly under lock and key. This is what makes biography the most sheepish and constrained of the arts and the least like life and royal biography doubly so.”
Definitely there is something "sheepish" and reluctant about the portrait he is offering. Despite some general information and speculation he is rather diffident when it comes to any real information about the relationship of Margaret with her sister and her mother and we also get almost nothing about herself as a mother. They are referenced, but not talked about in detail.

The book was a bit like it was not so much written, but painted by Picasso.

You have this woman:


but the way she is presented, she is more like this

description .

Depending on your POV, you can find it absorbing, captivating, unforgettable, revolting, laughable, deprecating, frustrating, depressing or all these combined.

"Margaret thought the world cruel for seeing her as the negative version of her sister, yet it was also how she came to define herself. (...) On one side she was given an inflated sense of her own value, while on the other her confidence was continually undermined by comparisons with her sister. She was very spoilt and indulged and made to feel a very special person indeed, while simultaneously being given clearly to understand that it was her sister who was important.
She remained conscious of the image of the one who wasn’t and to some extent played on it: the one who wasn’t the queen, the one who wasn't taught constitutional history, because she wasn’t the one who’d be needing it; the one who wasn’t in the first coach and wouldn’t ever be the first onto Buckingham Palace balcony; the one who wasn’t given the important duties, but was obliged to make do with the also-rans."
Profile Image for Karen Witzler.
476 reviews157 followers
October 20, 2018
Very good - but this is not fun gossip - it made me quite melancholy. 99 anecdotes and not one of them happy. Unexpectedly the book asks larger questions about the construct of identity and what it is to live as much in the imagined lives of others as in your own. Brown builds several alternate realities for Margaret throughout the book suggesting not only that she had other choices, but how those choices might have reverberated in the public consciousness. This somehow feels relational to our own individual lives.

The part about Picasso was weird (he wanted to marry her), and the part about John Fowles was unbearably creepy (he wanted to imprison her).
Profile Image for Valerity (Val).
955 reviews2,741 followers
September 26, 2018
I’ve been a bit of a royal watcher again of late the past few years, with the marriage of Prince William and Kate and the births of their three beautiful children. I’ll even admit to my insomnia having me up when Prince Harry and Meagan recently tied the knot. So it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to have grabbed this book about Princess Margaret because she’s mostly a mystery to me, and I wanted to check her out. I wasn’t disappointed at all. So unlike her sister Queen Elizabeth! She’s a bit of a holy terror and I got a kick out of reading about her in this book by Craig Brown.

When the book brought up Margaret being married to Picasso, I thought it was real at first, but then figured out it was a flight of fancy used in the book. I'm often very sleep deprived when reading, so I'm not surprised that happened. Even after going back once and thinking I'd corrected it. Needless to say, she was quite headstrong and determined to have her own way, to a point. She had a very fascinating life for the period in time that she lived in and she was introduced to so very many prominent people around the world that it’s quite mind-boggling at times. But for all of that, I don’t believe that hers was actually all that happy a life really. Not when you think of living life as a princess. Sometimes it’s just not all that it’s cracked up to be. Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, younger daughter of King George VI and sister to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. 8/21/1931 to 2/09/2002. My thanks for the advance digital copy that was provided by NetGalley, author Craig Brown, and the publisher for my fair review.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Publication: August 7, 2018

My Bookzone blog at Wordpress: https://wordpress.com/post/bookblog20...
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,271 reviews556 followers
February 11, 2019
This is a vastly disjointed tale of eye witness and "he said, she said" conversations and observations within the times and places of Princess Margaret's company. And in nearly all periods of her life, too. Not in chronological order or in any such grand feature of continuity unless you count the derision and general hatchet job that rules in each portion. And in this case that disjointedness is probably not a bad thing for the book as a whole. Because it justly does rather portent what you are going to get. Extremes of ire and not "fitting"- all around.

It's super sad, and I skim read portions. Especially those when she was part of a dual couple with Tony her husband, and Peter Sellers and Brit Ekland. Also some of the longer portions re Picasso interludes and latter years derogatory inclusions at all the names she was called. "Royal dwarf" being one of the nicer ones. And with Sellers and that crowd, the animals had it even worse. Disgusting. Snowdon was little too- the jokes about their sizes are NOT P.C. Midget .......... has numerous conversational asides/ references. Relating to all different aspects - even the size or height of her car's floors or fenders etc. She was just 5 foot tall. All the royals in her birth family are short. The Queen is the tallest by just 3 or 4 more inches. If you are a short person, some of this copy is going to get aggravating. Be warned.

What makes it so sad is that she is eternally unhappy. And also quite mean to viscous in her own brand of notorious put downs. Not to mention the humongous amounts of rudeness she craved by making people wait and finding some issue or item that she wants and that they cannot provide. So she could perform the resultant snicker.

What a sad and terribly strange and difficult worldview and mindset coupled with her down low or over the top personality that went with it. She was most likely always acting. And she had a twice a day hairdresser habit (often with a drive up and back each time) and a 37 year career limo driver that she rarely spoke a Good and/or Morning to.

I felt quite sorry for her actually. She didn't have a clue to what she was looking for either and she didn't have more than a handful of happy days.

Not ever having read a "Royalty" book before, I can certainly understand why the entire institution is disliked by some of the public. Their roles are so artificial in 100 various ways.

This book was worth the read, regardless. It actually portrays what a monarch for "form" is set there to do. And what they are NOT to do too.

And also it's a fantastic window into the arts and movies and other types of celebrity brand as well. What a blindfold to most/ more common human endeavor that they hold! And not in a good way either.

Some of the other people in this one that were '60's and '70's "stars" and within those times' events especially! They deserved the put downs and were even worse then she was. Including Liz, who made people wait the exactly same way and for identical reasons. As did Marilyn Monroe. Ego driven (inferiority core) passive aggression to put others in an inferior position. All of them.

Almost forgot something I learned- Margaret burned many letters. Almost all of her Mother's and sister's too that her mother had in several different lodging locations. She called it "tidying up" and took all paper she could find of correspondence and made it permanently vanish. Not just her own communications but ALL of their communications in print OR in personal cursive.
Profile Image for Gretchen Rubin.
Author 41 books88.4k followers
April 30, 2019
Wonderful. I knew nothing about Princess Margaret so learned a lot, but more importantly, this account contains deep insight into human nature.
Profile Image for Kerry.
1,445 reviews59 followers
October 22, 2018
Biographies should humanize their subject, not de-humanize them, and therefore I am booing this book off the stage. The last thing the world needs is another biography that looks at a woman through the male gaze--or many male gazes. The choice to excerpt particular men's drooling elegies over Princess Margaret's body or encounters with her is, in the least, distasteful; they're only vaguely described as "creepy," and yet here they are, rearing their heads decades later, re-immortalized in another book, continuing to perpetuate ideas about women that are best left where they originated (well in the past) and certainly not validated by their inclusion within a specious "biography" of a subject the writer doesn't even seem to like.

It's sad this book has had so much hype when perhaps it is time (and timely) to have a look at Princess Margaret that does something other than trash her. While clearly she was no saint, a serious biographer would try to look at the challenges she faced and the choices she made and try to put them into context of personality, life experience, era, and influences. Royal misfits make entrancing reading in the hands of the right writer, and Margaret's story is more complex than this volume of gossip acknowledges. It seems she was used as a vessel for what some are calling "wit," but which is really just a series of low blows and strange segues that are simply unclever.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,209 reviews266 followers
December 3, 2019
I never thought I'd ever read a biography of Princess Margaret, let along thoroughly enjoy it but that is exactly what happened.

I read a couple of very favourable reviews of 'Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret' and then heard Andy Miller praise it to the skies on an episode of the Backlisted Podcast, and so I was convinced to give it a go. Andy described it as a royal biography for people who wouldn't ordinarily read a royal biography. I think that's spot on.

'Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret' is extremely playful, very original and provides a multi-faceted portrait of HRH Queen Elizabeth II's sister. Some of it is "what if" musings e.g. what if Margaret had married Pablo Picasso (who was obsessed by her) or Group Captain Peter Townsend (which very nearly did happen), however the bulk explores how she was perceived by numerous different people.

Craig Brown explains how he noticed references to Princess Margaret in numerous different memoirs, from Andy Warhol to political commentators, and this is part of what makes this book so fascinating. Princess Margaret's life intersects politics, show business, bohemia, the aristocracy, and the wider public. The other aspect is that as the sister to the Queen her designated role was fairly restricted and tedious, so it's no wonder she sought to liven things up wherever possible. Factor in her wholly unsurprising massive sense of entitlement aligned to a mischievous (occasionally malicious) desire to make others suffer, and you have all the ingredients for a rollocking good read.

Craig Brown, who I have never read before, does an inspired job of taking this rigorously research material and creating a highly original, always compelling, thoughtful provoking read. By the end I was genuinely fascinated by Margaret and felt I had got to understand her.

For all Margaret's snobbishness and privilege, I felt quite sorry for her by the book's conclusion. Her ill treatment by her husband, and the diarists who laughed at her behind her back, helped render her bizarre life a tragedy.


Profile Image for Jo Chambers.
122 reviews11 followers
January 16, 2018
My criteria for a 5* read is that I miss its world when I've finished the book. I'm missing Princess Margaret already, though I don't think I would have liked to meet her in real life! The Queen's younger sister was a snob and the mistress of the sharp put-down. She liked to mix with the arty bohemian set, but was quick to make sure they knew she was Royal. Even her closest friends still had to call her 'Ma'am'.
This book is not the conventional sort of biography, but 99 chapters (sometimes short) of insights into PM's personality. At times it is hilarious, other times very sad. She was someone born into great privilege but who was unlucky in love. I found the passages about her mistreatment by her husband particularly moving. As a child she was at one time third in line to the throne, but by the end of her life had slipped down to about 11th. The more she 'slipped', it seemed the more snooty she became! After a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking, she paid the price by having a series of strokes, which ultimately killed her at the age of 71, dying a few months before her mother. Her funeral was very low key compared to that other Princess, Diana. She was cremated in a municipal crematorium in Slough, and there were few bystanders to see her last journey. To cap it all, her children sold her tiara to pay the school fees!
I recommend this book to anyone, Royalist or not - its an excellent character study of a fascinating woman (not always fascinating in a good way!)
Profile Image for Marc.
207 reviews22 followers
November 17, 2018
The structure of this book didn't work for me. There were some interesting bits but in the end I can't say I liked it. I didn't hate it but I would have appreciated some more historical context. I found myself googling over and over for information so I could understand what was being described. Overall, I feel very sad for Princess Margaret.
Profile Image for Beth Bonini.
1,290 reviews278 followers
January 31, 2020
Princess Margaret felt most at home in the company of the camp, the cultured and the waspish. It was to be her misfortune that such a high proportion of them kept diaries, and moreover, diaries written with a view to publication. To a man, they were mesmerised less by her image than the cracks to be found in it. They were drawn to her like iron fillings to a magnet, or, perhaps more accurately, cats to a canary.

This ‘biography’ brings to mind that expression with friends like these, who needs enemies? Princess Margaret seemed to exert a fascination over others for most of her life - and this gossipy bio is certainly full of anecdotes about men who fantasised about her - but she seems to have inspired little true loyalty. As the author points out, on a number of occasions, even the most obsequious of her followers seemed to relish the opportunity to get their own back in verbal claw marks.

I bought this ‘biography’ (yes, I feel that word should be ironically set off by quotation marks) last winter, mostly inspired by the 2nd season of The Crown. I remember reading an interview with actress Vanessa Kirby, who played Princess Margaret for the first two seasons, and she claimed to relish in her role because Margaret was always the ‘fun’ one and by far the more interesting of the two sisters. Perhaps that is and was the case, but I think that Kirby made the princess seem far more charismatic than she ever was in real life. If judging from this biography, Princess Margaret was the following: snobbish, petulant, spoilt, perennially late, vain, vacuous, entitled and a chain smoking lush. Also: very, very short. Her (lack of) height is dwelled on, and pointed out, to an absurd degree. ‘Poison dwarf’ was the not-so-affectionate nickname given to her by at least one Mitford sister.

Is it really so sad to be always a princess and never a queen? Is it such a hardship to have all of the royal privilege and very little of its responsibility? Is it so unusual to be unlucky in love, especially if someone is a spoilt little madam? I was certainly convinced that Princess Margaret was never terribly happy, and grew less so with the years, but it’s difficult to feel that her life was much of a tragedy.

Author Craig Brown claims that he was drawn to his subject partly because of her ‘ubiquity’: her tendency to show up in the indexes of nearly every personality of 20th century British life. It’s a ‘fun’ and promising start, but in the end, this biography added up to little more than a set of footnotes (in which the author often indulges). He plays around with the format of the biography in a way that can be both amusing and tiresome - ‘99 glimpses’, as the subtitle has it - but it never adds up for a portrait of any nuance or depth. Princess Margaret seemed a selfish monster in this book, and yet I couldn’t help but feel pity for her if this is all the ‘life’ she seemed worthy of.
Profile Image for Literary Redhead.
1,620 reviews492 followers
July 17, 2019
NINETY-NINE GLIMPSES OF PRINCESS MARGARET by Craig Brown leaves a raging debate on both sides of the Atlantic. Brits seem to love this intimate, often catty bio of the Princess who never would be Queen. Americans seem appalled ... by Margaret’s excesses, her cruelty, her seemingly wasted life that began flush with promise. For she was beautiful, witty, a brilliant mimic, once considered among the most desired women in the world. By the time of her death, however, a friend remarked that he had never known an unhappier person. She had belittled Princess Diana, demeaned Liz Taylor, caused her children to sell all her belongings post-death even though they did not need the money. Was it alcoholism, mental illness or soul sickness that claimed her? Unfortunately, this memoir that I found compulsively readable as an unabashed Royal addict did not reveal the answer as perhaps no human can know it. I was just left feeling sad. Sometimes great biographies do that. 5/5

Pub Date 07 Aug 2018

Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are fully mine.

#Ninety-nineGlimpsesOfPrincessMargaret #NetGalley
Profile Image for Susan.
662 reviews5 followers
December 26, 2017
For the most part an interesting book. A lot of bitchy gossip but then a LOT of filler, entire chapters written in the vein of "What if?" What if HRH married Pablo Picasso, etc? That to me, was a complete waste of time. I found myself hopping over these chapters as quickly as possible so I felt like I bought 1/3rd of a book.
Profile Image for Dead John Williams.
553 reviews13 followers
September 23, 2020
Ahh....it is books like this that make the ridiculousness of life seem somehow worth it. There is so much here to marvel at for sheer lunacy and pathos. I don't know what this book would be like for someone who wasn't British and wasn't around at the time of PM. But reading this I guess you could only wish that you were. I'd swap a thousand Trumps for just one PM.

Best quote: "the most highly paid dwarves in Europe"

Loved it
Profile Image for Chrissie.
837 reviews3 followers
January 4, 2019
Here's my problem with this book. You'd think it should be TRUE. Imagine how confused I was reading in chapter 19 about an announcement from Kensington Palace about Princess Margaret's marriage to Pablo Picasso. How had I gone this long without knowing about this? BECAUSE IT'S NOT TRUE. Argh.
135 reviews8 followers
April 27, 2018
Badly (terribly) written with a lot of amused speculation on the part of the author, and hearsay, along with some actual documented accounts by servants, letters, etc. It's fun as tawdry one-sided gossip, but that's ALL it is. It is in no sense a biography.

Princess Margaret comes off as a relentlessly selfish, difficult and impossible-to-please snob and harridan whom nobody could possibly want to put up with ever, let alone care for as a friend or lover. As with most people though, there must surely have been some aspects of her life and relationships that were softer, kinder, more charitable and less demanding, but nothing like that comes through in the 99 "Glimpses".

In these brief snippets, she doesn't like anything or anybody, regularly pulls rank and technicalities of royal protocol to inconvenience whole rooms full of people for hours, and never shrinks from snubbing or insulting anybody who makes the slightest faux pas in her presence. It's hard to believe that's all there was to her, or if it was, that anybody with any self respect would choose to grovel before her in this way. It would be fairer to include a few examples of nice things she did.

It also could have used an index. Like with Andy Warhol's Diaries, there are often scattered names dropped of English society or entertainment figures where some background information and context would have been helpful. I had never heard of Roddy Llewellyn and it wasn't clear until after many pages of accounts of his affair with Margaret that it mentioned he'd tried and failed to launch a cheesy singing career in the 70s.

Overall, it's entertaining in sections, some more than others, but hardly "screamingly funny" as one jacket blurb claims.
Profile Image for Philippa Leah.
46 reviews
October 23, 2017
Quirky, full of cracking anecdotes and humour - I’m a big fan of HRH but wasn’t sure I liked her very much by the end. Her acerbic wit shines through, but also her lack of purpose, which seems to have rendered her rudderless. He is spot on with his description of her tumbling down the order of succession whilst the empire crumbled, yet her becoming more and more imperious and demanding (as she felt befitting of her status). I felt enormous sympathy for her, although I imagine it would have been difficult to maintain that had I been on the receiving end of her withering remarks...

My greatest disappointment was Lord Linley though - imagine selling the wedding tiara to pay for school fees!!!! And saying she would approve! How very dare he!!!!
Profile Image for Debbie.
310 reviews
July 19, 2018
Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

I was in the mood for a light, funny, perhaps slightly snarky portrayal of the royal family. I was happy when I was provided this book, which seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

My problem with this book was the snark. Perhaps if it was toned down a bit this could have been a hoot. As written, there was too much poking fun of dead people who cannot defend themselves. Princess Margaret had no redeeming features. Her famous friends came off no better. I did not enjoy this book
Profile Image for Megan.
710 reviews
March 24, 2019
This might be the strangest biography I've ever read. The author vacillates between titillating gossip and the occasional generous supposition about the difficulties of being sister to the British monarch. As someone who grew up with the foibles of the younger generation of Windsors, much of this information was new to me but the erratic timeline and occasional bizarre foray into fantasy 'what-if' sequences made for a confusing if not completely frustrating read. I read this as an audiobook so, perhaps, that makes the transitions less clear, I'm not sure. There were truly funny moments but many times I considered giving up this book. I think I'm glad I stuck with it but I think I could have been just as happy abandoning it.
Profile Image for Sayde Scarlett.
Author 5 books19 followers
November 9, 2017
I loved every word of this. What a fantastic antidote to the typical stodgy biographies of Royals. If you're looking for a typical biography - this is *not* for you! The whole book is terrific fun.
Profile Image for Carolyn Harris.
Author 7 books56 followers
September 13, 2018
A biography of Princess Margaret assembled from more than 99 perspectives from the Home Secretary who witnessed her arrival at Glamis Castle in 1930 to the Christie's auction catalog of her possessions at the time of her death in 2002. In between, Margaret struggles to find a satisfying public role, decides not to marry the divorced Peter Townsend amidst constitutional controversy, endures a turbulent marriage to Antony Armstong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon, goes on holiday in Mustique, is asked to leave an event by a Beatle and snubs Elizabeth Taylor. The anecdotes assembled in the book are entertaining, irreverent and sometimes inappropriate.
Although Margaret burned most of her correspondence, she was mentioned in the memoirs and diaries of numerous prominent figures over the course of the second half of the 20th century and always made an impression. The author draws upon a wide range of sources including his own musings about how her life would have unfolded if she had made a different marriage or become queen. However, there are key perspectives missing. Margaret traveled extensively around the Commonwealth but voices from these tours are missing. The absence of Canadian, Australian or Caribbean sources is notable. Brown mentions that Margaret loved her children and encouraged them to pursue careers of their choice and that they live successful lives but their thoughts concerning their mother are entirely missing from the narrative. An engaging, innovative but incomplete portrait of the Princess. The audiobook narrator, Eleanor Bron, manages a full range of British accents from clipped royal tones to the Liverpool voices of the Beatles.
Profile Image for Cameron Godfrey.
43 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2023
The sole star is for the “witty” writing and not the subject of the book. Brown does a disservice to HRH the Princess Margaret and the troubled life she lived. This does not so much resemble a biography as more of a collection of gossip columns and weirdly-imagined satirical "what ifs."
Princess Margaret is a side character in her own biography where others provide their commentary, hence the reasons for the "glimpses" that make up the title.
Multiple times I contemplated casting it aside, for it was a slog to endure.
Profile Image for Anna Baillie-Karas.
420 reviews47 followers
February 17, 2018
I’ve been watching The Crown and fascinated by Princess Margaret, so this was a great gift. There are some funny excerpts of diaries & letters - she befriended theatre types and as Brown puts it “it was her misfortune that many of them kept diaries”. An insider view of her life from a range of sources. But even if accurate, it’s an unflattering portrait of an unhappy woman. I was torn between joining in the fun and tiring of the meanness.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
661 reviews50 followers
March 3, 2019
Some of it was interesting, but the overriding impression I had of this book was that it was over long and the chapters which wandered off into an alternative imagined life for Princess Margaret were rather pointless and silly. Ultimately I felt it didn't seem to know what it was - a serious biography or a parody of a biography or perhaps neither.
Profile Image for Mrs. Danvers.
883 reviews45 followers
January 24, 2019
This is how biographies should be written, particularly those of royals. Very fresh and clever, with just the right amount of awareness that Princess Margaret didn't have such an easy time of it balanced by clear awareness of what she brought on herself.
Profile Image for Leslie.
798 reviews62 followers
November 29, 2021
I have no particular interest in the current Royal Family and no taste at all for tabloidy gossip about them, but I rather enjoyed this. It’s of interest less for its actual subject, HRH the Princess Margaret (the “the” was very very important to her, Brown tells us) than for its experiments in biographical form. While she lived an incredibly public life (which I would find intolerable), she was ultimately unknowable. Perhaps that’s true of everyone, and the insight supposedly provided by biographies is always an illusion. Put that way, of course. But there was something particularly unknowable about her (as there is about her sister, the Queen). Margaret lived her life in the Royal fishbowl but could only be seen as a Royal, as the Princess, never as just her. But then who on earth was she, outside of her role? I doubt she knew, either. The person was always already swallowed up in the role. What an awful way to live. She may not have managed her life well, but who on earth could have managed it well? Better than she did, perhaps, but it’s an inherently terrible position in which to live.

Some of the experiments here are fun. Brown provides us with multiple versions of single anecdotes, then invites to choose between them ( a reminder of the arbitrariness of the biographer’s task). He provides little fictional snippets of alternative lives. One particularly interesting chapter (or glimpse, #32) provides a single anecdote, then retells it in 31 different ways (he should have made it 32, to match the chapter number—except he sort of does, now that I think about it, if you include the quoted bit from the TLS with which the chapter begins, on which he then rings all the changes). So he retells the unimportant anecdote journalistically, comically, statistically, alliteratively, confrontationally, discreetly, gastronomically, argumentatively, oleaginously, hypochondriacally, suggestively, psychedelically, psychoanalytically, phonetically, tautologically, vaguely, tragically, as Chinese Whispers, as a blurb, a footnote, a haiku, a limerick, a non-sequitur, an index entry, a limerick, a multiple choice quiz, a nursery rhyme a Queen’s Speech, a spoonerism. Biography as parlour game. It’s a terrific chapter, and I think I’ll use it in a future writing class as the basis for a writing exercise for my students.
Profile Image for Cassie Rauch.
135 reviews2 followers
February 11, 2021
overall i really liked this book and the form was fun - the creative liberties he took to me were a little annoying (chapter about the different ways the story of PM flying to Coleridge’s home could be told.... i know that truth is subjective ok????), but i really liked that most of the book was based around gossip. i definitely recommend for my crown heads.
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