Spare by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Review by Becky Innes
From the moment the title was announced, I joined thousands of others in pre-ordering Prince Harry’s memoir Spare. The title alone was cause for controversy, portraying the tone of the book. Even as one of the most famous men in the world, I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Prince Harry before reading his book. Admittedly, the media played a huge part in my motivation for reading but I went into it with an open mind, and I’m so glad that I did!
I can’t remember any other book capturing my attention to this level. I’ve recently read Bob Mortimer’s and Motsi Mabuse’s autobiographies, which were interesting, but Prince Harry’s was on another level! The descriptions of the castles, gardens and war zones were written to such a high standard that you felt you were there with Harry, looking at the same scene. Whilst it may have been written by a ghost writer, Harry’s thoughts and feelings really came through in the text.
The book is split into three parts: Harry’s teenage life; his time in the army; and finally Harry’s relationship with Meghan and his move away from the royal family. Harry’s exploration of his teenage life is heart-breaking. There is so much that we don’t know about the royal family and this book makes it clear that we only see what they want us to. It is obvious that Princess Diana’s death deeply damaged young Harry; his loss was something that he needed help with but didn’t get. It came across that he wasn’t particularly close to his brother or father and was only seen as a spare part by the institution.
When I wasn’t reading the book, I was thinking about it. When I put down the book, the first thing I did was hug my own mum and dad. I never thought I’d feel luckier than a prince! Regardless of your opinion, the book is beautifully written and hugely interesting. It will stay with me for a long time.
Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi (translated from Japanese by David Boyd and Lucy North)
Review by Natalie Beckett
For the first few chapters of Yagi’s debut novel Diary of a Void, my mouth was upturned in a smirk! Ms Shibata, the hero of this story, has just told her co-workers that she can’t possibly clear away the dirty coffee cups because she is pregnant and the smell is nauseating. It is not her job, nor are any of the other menial tasks she is expected to do simply because she is the only woman at an all-male company. But that’s not what’s funny – what’s funny is, she isn’t pregnant! I keep smirking the whole way through this book; I feel like I’m in on the mischief. Whilst pretending you’re pregnant to get out of clearing away some cups may seem a tad dramatic and potentially insensitive, I am completely charmed by Ms Shibata.
In the following chapters, Ms Shibata falls deeper into her lie. She plans maternity leave, stuffs clothes under her jumper and downloads a pregnancy app. I wait in anticipation for it all to backfire, but instead, she is rewarded. Now she’s pregnant, she can leave work early, watch movies and enjoy long bubble baths. She is giving the middle finger to the office patriarchy.
Yagi’s writing is straight to the point, but still full of life and colour. Food features heavily and I find myself googling various Japanese foods: chikuwa, yaki imo and karaage. It acts as a reminder of the setting and adds to the wit of the writing. Amongst the humour and charm is the inescapable loneliness that Ms Shibata suffers. Thirty-four, unmarried and living alone, her few friends appear to fade into the background the more she embraces her ‘pregnancy.’ Her dedication to the lie is emblematic of her desire to remove the gaping void from her life. Meanwhile, she discovers that she is not alone in her loneliness. Even those who have society's view of a full life feel completely alone.
Yagi leaves me with mixed feelings about Ms Shibata’s journey. I am glad her escapades mean she is now free of (some) sexism in the workplace. However, I can’t help but recognise the dark irony of Yagi’s story: the only way for our hero to free herself of sexism at work is to put herself into a category of women upon whom different sexist expectations are enforced. It is unsurprising that the book won the Osamu Dazai prize. It is heart-warming, hilarious, thought-provoking and should be next up on your To Be Read list.