cover image Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret

Craig Brown. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-0-374-90604-7

Chatty, catty, and intelligent, Brown’s portrayal in vignettes of Britain’s Princess Margaret (1930–2002) draws from published memoirs, interviews, and diaries. The “disobedient, attention-seeking” Margaret, writes critic and satirist Brown (One on One), grew up suffering in comparison to her older sister, who became Queen Elizabeth II. As “the one who wouldn’t ever be first,” Margaret was born to fulfill menial duties such as “the patronage of the more obscure charity, the glad-handing of the smaller fry.” She captured the world’s sympathy with her first, doomed romance to Royal Air Force pilot Peter Townsend (he was divorced and the queen refused to grant Margaret permission to marry him). “The rest of us are allowed to forget a youthful passion, but the world defined Princess Margaret by hers,” writes Brown. Margaret was a magnet for people who were “mesmerized less by her image than by the cracks to be found in it.” She was invited to events because she could be counted on to misbehave deliciously: “The presence of the Princess would endow a party with grandeur; her departure would be the signal for mimicry to commence.” Brown is sympathetic to the plight of a woman who, as a friend said, was “one of the cleverest women... I have ever met, and she never really had an outlet for her intelligence.” Brown’s entertaining vignettes form a collage portrait of a rebellious anti-Cinderella. (Aug.)