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Book Beat: Royal Thrashing: Books on Princess Di for the Rest of Us
Steven M. Zeitchik -- 9/7/98
They come not to praise Diana but to bury her -- under a torrent of criticism. Or at least to offer a book that "d s not handle her with kid gloves," according to Verso's publicist. Now there's a volume for those who are tired of the endless odes to the late princess's fashion sense and altruism and bored by the salacious voyeurism of tell-alls.
The title in question is After Diana: Irreverent Elegies, a collection of essays edited by Mandy Merck and published by Verso Press, the house that attempted the ultimate postmodern joke by seeking to promote its sleek version of the Communist manifesto in Barney's, New York's upscale clothing shop. Verso hopes this revised, unsentimental look at Diana will turn out to be a book as outrageous as it is academic, and as important as it is entertaining.

To find some of the outrageousness, look no further than the introduction, which includes a quote about Diana that says, "[A] woman who, if her IQ were five points lower, would have to be watered daily." The essays that follow mix unconventional views with subversive commentary: Christopher Hitchens writes about how he was bombarded by the quote-seeking media in the wake of Diana's and Mother Teresa's deaths, leading him to become the "official pisser-on of people's funerals" as he calls Diana a "simpering Bambi narcissist"; Alexander Cockburn argues that "the saintlike mien of a Jackie O or a Princess Di is a most useful cover for corruption."

"We were all a little sickened by the maudlin sentimentality surrounding the Diana thing and the attempt to silence all voices who didn't want to make her into a saint," explained Sebastian Budgen, an editor at Verso in the U.K. "We wanted to strike a note against that."

Many of the essays appeared previously in such publications as the London Review of Books, Vanity Fair and the Nation. Five of the pieces were published earlier in a book called Diana Crash, from the French publisher Descartes.

"The book we had was very Anglo-American in perspective," Budgen said, explaining why Verso decided to add the French essays to After Diana. "Their essays are slightly more philosophical in tone. They were able to step back." Because most of the Diana Crash essays are printed in After Diana, there are no plans to translate Diana Crash into English.

Verso isn't the only publisher to take on the subject this way. Hoping to tap the holiday market, Ballantine plans a November release for the more polite but similarly unapologetic Diana: The Secret Years, which Michael O'Mara Books will publish in the U.K. Royal confidante Simone Simmons writes about the period from 1993 to 1997, a time in which the princess tried to carve out private space for herself even as her public life became increasingly subject to scrutiny. "It's Diana as a woman and not as a princess," said Ballantine publisher Judith Curr. "The book is sympathetic, but it's not sycophantic; it explains her bad behavior, but it d sn't excuse it."

Similar mixed messages emerge from Los Angeles-based Renaissance Press's The Princess and the Package by Michael Levine, out this month. Though it meticulously chronicles the moments preceding Diana's death ("While Diana and Dodi were at the restaurant, [driver] Henri Paul waited at the bar drinking anisette"), it weaves in analysis of Diana and her cult. At least one of the book's goals, according to Renaissance, is to examine her relationship to the media and how she used this relationship to burnish her public image.
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