Book review – The Secret Diary of a Princess

I’m not very good at reviews beyond I liked the bit where, so please excuse me if this sounds rather like a school writeup to prove that I have read my reading book.

I always read my reading book, by the way. I was happiest in the English lessons where our lazy (perhaps just forgetful) teacher would set us to do 10 minutes of silent reading and then forget about us for the rest of the half-hour period.

I have recently(ish) started a job where I have to do a fair amount of commuting, and serendipitously I received a Kindle for my birthday (before I even knew I was applying for the job). So I have been reading rather a lot recently, including books that I would not have read otherwise. I re-read the What Katy Did books after discovering (1) they were free for the Kindle, and (2) there are actually 5 of them, not 3 as I previously thought.

The What Katy Did books were very clearly children’s books and very much of their time, with an emphasis on how good work and piousness will make your life better, and a severe spinal injury can turn even the most wilful child into a living angel. The Secret Diary of a Princess, on the other hand, is more difficult to classify. I came to it via Twitter, where its author often posts interesting links about history and dresses. Sorry MmeG, but that’s the best way I can describe it. History and dresses. Historical dresses. Whenever I go to a museum I like to seek out the everyday things. The paraphernalia of real life. Old clothing holds a fascination because it forces you to imagine people inside it, going about their lives as we go about ours in our jeans and jumpers (although in many cases without the ability to easily turn around or get through a narrow doorway).

Is this a children’s book? I’m not sure. It tracks the progress of the youngest daughter of the Emperor of Austria as she grows from a tearaway ten-year-old Maria Antonia to Marie Antoinette, wife of the Dauphin of France. As the title suggests it is written as a diary, which makes it very immediately first-person and so the outlook and description is at times childish. I particularly like instances where MA is shown to have thoughts that she will not admit even to her diary. There are the usual unlikelihoods that plague all diary-based books (secretly writing 500+ words in bed, with pen and ink, and exactly relating whole conversations?) but these can be easily ignored if you have an averagely-active suspension of disbelief. On the other hand, while written in a childish voice, this is a book that is about power and freedom and living up to expectations, with emphasis on how children are valued more as bargaining chips than as people (particularly daughters, but sons too are shown to have little choice where they marry). I think a number of scenes would not have resonated as strongly with 12-year-old me and they did with adult-me.

So yes, if you have a Kindle, £2,88 is hardly anything, get yourself a copy and be educated and entertained at the same time. Also: be thankful that you do not live in a world where your parents have 16 children in the hopes that enough of them will live to adulthood to be married off to a suitably wide range of strangers, relatives, and royals. A final piece of info: all of the paintings that Antonia sits for (while being very bored) in the book are real.


2 thoughts on “Book review – The Secret Diary of a Princess

  1. Pingback: Reading books “because Twitter told me to” | screenfulofwords

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