Sunday, 10 January 2021

#CBR13 Book 1: "The Princess Diarist" by Carrie Fisher

Page count: 267 pages
Audio book length: 5 hrs 10 mins
Rating: 3.5 stars

On the 27th of December 2016, Carrie Frances Fisher, probably best known worldwide as the actress who portrayed Princess Leia Organa in six Star Wars movies died of heart failure. I bought this audiobook on the same day in honour of her memory, but haven't really felt up to listening to it before now. 

Carrie Fisher is probably the celebrity whose death has hit me the hardest. Heath Ledger, Alan Rickman and David Bowie all upset me, but with Carrie Fisher, I felt genuine and long-lasting grief and watching her last actual performance in The Last Jedi and posthumous appearance in The Rise of Skywalker had me crying buckets. She was a tremendously important part of my childhood and adolescence, long before I entirely understood how important a character Princess Leia was to me. 

I was born in Sweden and grew up next door to a boy who was about three years older than me. Because of him, I watched the original Star Wars trilogy before I was really aware of what the story was about and I played with his action figures (obviously, as the girl, I got to be Leia in all her various costume options). I imprinted on this strong and heroic woman, really the only female of note in the original three movies. 

As I grew up, I came across Carrie Fisher in other films and learned more about her personal life. Her no-nonsense feminism and openness about her mental health issues and other aspects of her life didn't in any way diminish my admiration for her. She really was a hero for me, and listening to this book, and now, reviewing it, I'm once again so sorry we lost her when we did - at 60, she had so much living left to do. 

I suppose I should say something about what this book is actually about, shouldn't I? Published in November 2016, it would end up being the last book our revered Space Mom ever released. In it, she reveals that having re-discovered journals she wrote while filming the first Star Wars movie, she thought back to that part of her life and the events that transpired. She shares stories about how she was cast in what she thought would be a fun, low-budget space adventure movie, with absolutely no idea that it was going to change the face of cinema forever. Instead of Princess Leia being a part she played once back in the late 1970s before she was even sure she really wanted to become an actress, it became a role she would repeat five more times, not to mention be irrevocably identified with for the rest of her life, not just by sci-fi fans at conventions, but pretty much everywhere.

In the book, she also reveals the until the book's release closely kept secret that she had an affair with the then-married Harrison Ford while they were shooting the film. Despite being the daughter of a famous actress, having dropped out of high school to live a life as a backing singer and actress, Fisher was really rather naive and inexperienced when she arrived on the set of Star Wars, determined to broaden her sexual horizons with someone, but never imagining that it could be Harrison Ford, her charismatic love interest, who she seemed to be utterly in awe of both back in the 70s and later. While she does reveal some of the story of their relationship, there are no particularly salacious details here and anyone looking for juicy gossip is going to be disappointed.

Ms. Fisher also shares her thoughts on the later years of her life, constantly associated with Princess Leia, how she initially never wanted to be caught dead at a fan convention but ended up doing a lot of them. She recounts a bunch of fan encounters, never too maliciously, but with a sharp wit that shows she was very aware of how much of a commodity her fame became, and how the Princess Leia persona sometimes eclipsed Carrie Fisher herself. 

I think my favourite part of the book was the actual excerpts from Carrie Fisher's notebook journals at the time, read by her daughter Billie Lourd. They come across almost like little poems and show all the passion during the relationship, she also felt uncomfortable, with a guilty conscience, during the time she and Ford were together. She described the relationship as "one long one-night stand". 

I clearly need to get more of Carrie Fisher's books, as she's a witty and self-deprecating writer. It's sadly not like we're going to get more movies or TV-show performances from her.

Judging a book by its cover: One of the things Ms. Fisher shares in this book is how long it took to decide on her hair for Star Wars and how many different hairstyles were tried and rejected before the iconic "cinnamon bun ear muffs" that Leia sports for much of the movie were decided upon. I like the choice to make the cover something that could clearly be a promotional image of Fisher in her youth, as Leia, without showing us all of her iconic face. The author's name is her scrawled autograph, which she signed so many times (referring to it in the book as a "celebrity lapdance"). 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.  

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