It’s all in good fun for an American to wake up early for Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding or to binge-watch “The Crown.” But it doesn’t seem like it’s very much fun to be a royal, especially on a hot summer’s day while wearing pantyhose. Before Fergie and Diana, Princess Margaret was the original unhappy princess. Margaret was Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister, the more glamorous and mischievous of the pair, whose love for Group Captain Peter Townsend was so cruelly thwarted.
In Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, award-winning journalist Craig Brown offers an acerbic biography of the star-crossed princess, one that is hilarious and bittersweet in turns. The chief biographical events of Margaret’s life—her doomed affair with Townsend, her unhappy marriage to Tony Snowden, her taste for bohemia and louche ’70s vacations on the Caribbean island of Mustique—are told with a postmodern flair. All of these stories have been told countless times already, and Brown rather brilliantly parses the different accounts for what they tell us about the teller. Brown considers all the angles of many apocryphal stories, especially the ribald ones.
All of this makes for a surprisingly substantial page-turner. Brown’s gift for satire is tempered with a genuinely humane portrayal of the emptiness of the princess’s life. Yes, she was a ruthless snob and an appalling dinner guest, but what else? If she became a caricature of herself in later life, it was—as Brown suggests—because her act mirrored the ridiculous behavior of her aristocratic groupies. Brown’s book is highly recommended for all American royal-watchers.