I thought I’d know what I was going to say when I sat down to write this review, but I suddenly found myself stuck. I knew I had to write something. I also knew this much going into Carrie Fisher’s memoir The Princess Diarist: it would feature excerpts from her diary from the time she made the original Star Wars and she would talk about her affair with costar Harrison Ford. Okay, maybe I knew a little more than that because I’d seen some of her other movies and read Postcards from the Edge and Surrender the Pink. I could expect her distinctive, remarkable writing style, though I haven’t read any of her stuff recently. What was causing my initial hesitation? I’m one of them–those fans who delight and vex the author.
I have to pause for a moment: I had originally written “I hadn’t read any of Carrie’s stuff recently” above, then politely changed it to her because I do not know Ms. Fisher. I do not know Princess Leia, the role that catapulted her and her costars to superstardom, except as a fan and fannish writer. I’ve tried not to delude myself about my relationships with fictional characters or the people who portray them, despite having dreams where I’ve talked to Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill as actors, as though I knew them personally. These people get under your skin when you’re not looking. Or if you’ve been looking for nearly 40 years, as I have.
It’s just a movie, I remind myself (But it changed my life! my seven-year-old self replies indignantly). She was a person playing a role in a movie, says my inner adult (but she gave the role with just the right spirit to make her iconic 40 years later!). If this book talks about anything, it’s about the relationships that Hollywood actors have with their roles and then with the fans enamored of those characters. And, as I noted above, it’s confusing. I shall attempt to refrain from any additional claims to relationship or ownership of Ms. Fisher’s mind; however, I’m still keeping my action figures.
In any case, as problematic as it is writing about Carrie Fisher as a fan, this book makes it clear how intensely bizarre and difficult it must be to be Carrie Fisher, the person who has lived with this role for 40 years. You might be curious, as I was, about what she thought about most at that time. If you read her diary, which is what she invites her fans to do, you discover that she was most intensely focused on her affair with the now-internationally-famous-many-times-over Harrison Ford.
What comes across most clearly in Fisher’s prose, both now and then, is how blessed smart and funny she is. Her writing sparkles with a spontaneous wit and originality that I hope to achieve someday. She has her own voice. As soon as I read her description of her first iconic hairdo as “the buns of Navarone,” I knew I was in for a treat. This was the writing I remember from Postcards from the Edge–snarky and all-the-way fun. Some bits just jumped out at me and caused me to devour this book in a few hours…
I need to write. It keeps me focused for long enough to complete thoughts. To let each train of thought run to its conclusion and let a new one begin. It keeps me thinking. I’m afraid that if I stop writing I’ll stop thinking and start feeling. I can’t concentrate when I’m feeling.
You see, my dear, you are not Carrie Fisher at all. They just told that to test you.
I would like to not be able to hear myself think. I constantly hear my mind chattering and jabbering away up there all by itself. I wish it would give me a f###ing break.
The itsy bitsy spidered his way up my water spout
He little Jack Hornered his way into my corner
And now I can’t get him out
He at all my porridge, sat in my chair
Slept in my bed, washed himself into my hair
At the same time, it can be painful to read Fisher’s writing. She lays out her vulnerabilities like 8 X 10″ glossies on a Comic Con autograph table. She is hyperconscious, self-studying, and self-deprecating to a fault. It hurts to see someone you admire be this hard on themselves.
The Princess Diarist is akin to an emotional strip tease (Fisher calls autograph signing a “lap dance”) with surprisingly little nudity. For example, she is intimate in her writing about Ford, not Salacious–sorry, had to throw that in there. I would be curious to know how Ford reacted to this book, assuming he read it, but that’s between them. She lays bare her troubled relationship with her father; her one-sided passion for a stoic, standoffish, and smart-assed Harrison Ford; her awkward moments with long lines of fans at conventions. If you want to know “What must it be like to be Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia?” this book answers that, in spades, hearts, and every other suit you can think of.
In any case, I wish her well as she continues with new chapters of her life as Princess (now General) Leia Organa and, hopefully, happily, as Carrie Fisher. If I’m ever crazy enough to go to a con and stand in line for her autograph, I’ll keep it short and sweet and let her move on with her day. Judging by The Princess Diarist, the self-doubting princess/actress/icon has had enough worshippers for one lifetime. Maybe several.