Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret (Brown)

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret
Craig Brown, 2017 (2018, U.S.)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
432 pp.

Winner, 2018 James Tait Black Memorial Prize-biography

A witty and profound portrait of the most talked-about English royal

She made John Lennon blush and Marlon Brando tongue-tied. She iced out Princess Diana and humiliated Elizabeth Taylor. Andy Warhol photographed her. Jack Nicholson offered her cocaine. Gore Vidal revered her. Francis Bacon heckled her. Peter Sellers was madly in love with her. For Pablo Picasso, she was the object of sexual fantasy.

Princess Margaret aroused passion and indignation in equal measures.

To her friends, she was witty and regal. To her enemies, she was rude and demanding.

In her 1950s heyday, she was seen as one of the most glamorous and desirable women in the world. By the time of her death in 2002, she had come to personify disappointment. One friend said he had never known an unhappier woman.

The tale of Princess Margaret is Cinderella in reverse: hope dashed, happiness mislaid, life mishandled. Such an enigmatic and divisive figure demands a reckoning that is far from the usual fare.

Combining interviews, parodies, dreams, parallel lives, diaries, announcements, lists, catalogues, and essays, Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography and a witty meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—May 23, 1957
Where—England, UK
Education—B.A., Bristol University
Awards—James Tait Black Memorial Prize
Currently—lives in London, England

Craig Edward Moncrieff Brown is an author, biographer, an English critic and satirist. He is the only person ever to have won three different Press Awards―for best humorist, columnist, and critic―in the same year.

Brown was educated at Eton and Bristol University and then became a freelance journalist in London, contributing to the Tatler, Spectator, Times Literary Supplement, Literary Review, Evening Standard (as a regular columnist), Times (UK: notably as parliamentary sketchwriter; these columns were compiled into a book called A Life Inside) and the Sunday Times (as TV and restaurant critic).

He later continued his restaurant column in the Sunday Telegraph and has contributed a weekly book review to the Mail on Sunday. He created the characters of "Bel Littlejohn," an ultra-trendy New Labour type, in the Guardian, and "Wallace Arnold," an extremely reactionary conservative, in the Independent on Sunday.

Brown has been writing his parodic diary in Private Eye since 1989. In 2001, he took over Auberon Waugh's "Way of the World" in the Daily Telegraph following Waugh's death but lost that column in December 2008. He also has a column in the Daily Mail.

Brown also writes comedy shows such as Norman Ormal for TV (in which he appeared as a returning officer). His radio show This Is Craig Brown was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2004; it featured comics Rory Bremner and Harry Enfield and other media personalities. He has appeared on television as a critic on BBC Two's Late Review as well as in documentaries such a Russell Davies's life of Ronald Searle.

His book 1966 and All That takes its title, and some other elements, from 1066 and All That, extending its history of Britain through to the beginning of the 21st century. A BBC Radio 4 adaptation followed in September 2006, in similar vein to This Is Craig Brown. The Tony Years is a comic overview of the years of Tony Blair's government, published in paperback by Ebury Press in June 2007.

Brown's predominantly factual biography of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, was published in 2017 (2018 in the U.S.) and won the 2018 James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the biography category.

Personal life
Brown's wife is the author Frances Welch. They have two children. Frances Welch's niece is Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. (Adapted from the publisher and Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/26/2018.)

Book Reviews

Brown ignores all the starchy obligations of biography and adopts a form of his own to trap the past and ensnare the reader—even this reader, so determinedly indifferent to the royals. I ripped through the book with the avidity of Margaret attacking her morning vodka and orange juice…[Brown] swoops at his subject from unexpected angles—it's a Cubist portrait of the lady…As a subject, the princess proves to be something she never was in life: obliging. Beautiful, bad-tempered, scandal-prone, she makes for unfailingly good copy, and heaps of it.…The wisdom of the book, and the artistry, is in how Brown subtly expands his lens from Margaret's misbehavior…to those who gawked at her, who huddled around her, pens poised over their diaries, hoping for the show she never denied them. History isn't written by the victors, he reminds us, it's written by the writers, and this study becomes a scathing group portrait of a generation of carnivorous royal watchers…Without ever explicitly positioning Margaret for our pity, Brown reveals how we elevate in order to destroy. Who or what, in the final reckoning, is the true grotesque—the absurd, unhappy princess, those desperate to get close to her, or the system propping them all up?
Parul Sehgal - New York Times

Brown, a longtime contributor to Private Eye magazine, is capable of witty concision.… His “Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret,” …are mostly fast and entertaining. But more than a few could have been a single sentence, and a handful of counterfactual fantasies …never gain altitude. Too much of the book, like so much of its subject’s life, is extraneous … [and here and there a reader may wish the author had given Margaret a smidgen more credit.
Thomas Mallon - New York Times Book Review

Craig Brown’s delectable Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is not a novel, though its subject seems like a sublime work of fiction, too imperious to be true.… Brown has done something astonishing: He makes the reader care, even sympathize, with perhaps the last subject worthy of such affection.… His book is big fun, equal measures insightful and hysterical.
Karen Heller - Washington Post

An original, memorable and substantial achievement.
Times Literary Supplement

A biography teeming with the joyous, the ghastly and clinically fascinating.
Times (UK)

Chatty, catty, and intelligent… Brown’s entertaining vignettes form a collage portrait of a rebellious anti-Cinderella.
Publishers Weekly

In this biography from noted satirist Brown, one expects and gets an effective skewering of both its subject …and the entire royal industry and its hangers-on, yet a small balm of sympathy for Margaret is added to the mix. —Kathleen McCallister, Tulane Univ., New Orleans
Library Journal

[A]n an acerbic biography of the star-crossed princess, one that is hilarious and bittersweet in turns.… Brown’s book is highly recommended for all American royal-watchers.

Sensationalistic snippets from the life of a royal princess.… While savory overall, the onslaught of dishy details bends beneath its own weight in the book's final third.… [Still, an] endlessly provocative and deliciously scandalous book for royal watchers.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers Talking Points to help start a discussion for NINETY-NINE GLIMPSES OF PRINCESS MARGARET … then take off on your own:

1. How does Craig Brown present Princess Margaret in this biography? Describe her: the kind of person was she in the public's eye … and the kind of person in private. Does she seem to change during the course of her life? Do you find her sympathetic?

2. In what way do you think Margaret's childhood, as the younger sister to then Princess Elizabeth, might have shaped her personality and how she lived her adult life?

3. Talk about Margaret's disappointments surrounding marriage, starting with Peter Townsend and later Anthony Armstrong-Jones. What do you think of her husband and the deterioration of their relationship?

4. Do you feel Ninety-Nine Glimpses is a fair assessment of Margaret—her life and character? Does the author present her in a balanced light, or do you feel his material is sensationalized, a little too "dishy"? Perhaps, it's both?

5. How does the author characterize the institution of royalty, as well as the people who occupy it (the Queen Mother, in particular)?

6. What do you make of the people the princess socialized with—the celebrities and 1960's "in crowd?" To what extent were they genuine in their friendship? Or were they primarily hangers-on, attracted to her status as royalty? (Consider how many of them recorded their comings and goings with the princess.) How did those friends/acquaintances treat her … and vice versa?

7. Follow-up to Question 6: She had a powerful affect on people who met and befriended her. Why do you you think? Was it her personality, her charm, her intelligence … or her status as royalty?

8. Do you envy—a lot, a little, or not at all—the life of Princess Margaret?

9. How familiar were you with Margaret's story before reading this book? Have you, for instance, watched the film series, The Queen? Has your view of her altered after reading Brown's Ninety-Nine Glimpses?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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