The Princess Diarist
It could have been a real life romance novel – if only it had ended with an HEA. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher is primarily the story of how a plucky young girl with aspirations of being an actress had a love affair with her handsome leading man. This while headlining what is arguably the most famous movie of all time. It could have been THE Hollywood love story but alas, it is not. It is, instead, a poignant, painful look at how it feels to love – and lose.
“Star Wars was and is my job. It can’t fire me and I’ll never be able to quit.”
Fisher tells us with equal degrees of bitterness, joy and resignation. She was aware that being Princess Leia paid the bills, calling fan events where she was paid for her appearances “lap dances”. She was also aware that it stole a part of her:
“I mean, obviously I’d never starred in a movie, but this was completely not like starring in your average everyday movie. It might’ve been like being one of the Beatles. Sure, most of it was a fun surprise, but the days where you could really let your guard down were over because now there were cameras everywhere. I had to comport myself with something approaching dignity, at twenty.”
Her youth and anonymity gone, she kept silent for years about the other impactful event that occurred during those months in 1976 while she was filming: her affair with married co-star Harrison Ford. Throughout the book, Fisher vacillates between telling us that she knew from the beginning that it was temporary, that she couldn’t reveal that “we were more than just costars” because she felt maybe they were “not much more where he was concerned”.
And sharing dreams like
“Harrison could unexpectedly (but gently and responsibly) leave his wife, and after a barely noticeable, dignified amount of time, he would marry me (in an unsentimental, tasteful way) and we would subsequently astonish everyone— including ourselves— by remaining together for the rest of whoever died first’s life.”
Unsentimental. Frightening awful silences. Those are the words that most describe for Fisher the affair. There was Harrison, in his thirties, quiet, mature and seemingly deep. And then there was Carrie, extremely young and impulsive and used, presumably, to the larger than life boisterousness of Hollywood and Vegas. Their differences caused mixed emotions for the author:
“He is like a fantasy. The inevitability of his escape is most likely his most attractive feature. He submits to the silences without a struggle; I go under shrugging and sighing, finally overcome by the sheer weight of the pause-turned-lull-turned-way-of-life. Silence speaks louder than words— it screams, “BORING!” He’s boring and tries to make it look more like a decision than an accident. The silences make my composure decompose from the inside out. I wonder what he is like inside out. We often assume that when the surface offers so little the depth must be unfathomable. Whatever is inaccessible must be worthwhile. I hate him and all of his quiet. But I love the implied disapproval, the seniority, the sternness, the disdain, the “strong silent type.”
These snippets are the book in miniature. An oft repeated cycle of Fisher speaking by turns of knowing it was just an affair from the start, giving us images of wistful moments where she clearly wished for more and listing how both wonderful and awful the Star Wars experience has been. It is an almost painful read in the way it makes the author so completely opaque to the reader. There is a sense of complete vulnerability, both from what she reveals regarding being in love with a man who did not quite love her and regarding what she felt as a result of having so, so many fans feel entitled to a piece of her.
The way it is written is almost painful too. Fisher tells us:
Though there has been some speculation regarding my drug use during Star Wars, I used nothing other than Harrison’s pot on the weekends during that first film. After that, marijuana was no longer possible for me— it had such a powerful, all-consuming effect on me that I have never used that drug again. In effect, I can’t remember now what I was too uncomfortable to remember at the time. For three months. From celebration to intoxication to assignation to infatuation to imitation to indignation— this was my trimester of the affair that was Harrison.
That fog shows. There is a sense of disconnect throughout the story where we are not sure of just what we are reading. Much of the prose conveys only emotion; Sarcastic, snarkily wonderfully written emotion but emotion that takes precedence over bald, mundane facts. That makes the book read like something a jack rabbit would write, with jumps and leaps that are seemingly random. Then again, it’s like an optical illusion, where two images appear to exist in the same space: the truth of what is happening, which is nothing much, and the hopes and dreams of the girl to which it is happening.
I should add that this isn’t just because the book is, in part, a dairy. The first, non-diary, chapters where Fisher exposits sections of her life that led to the role in Star Wars: A New Hope and some of her daily life during the filming of that movie are equally emotionally driven and disjointed as well. The author isn’t exaggerating her difficulty in chronologically remembering this era.
I’ve read – and loved – Ms. Fisher’s work before, most notably her novels Postcards from the Edge and Surrender the Pink. The Princess Diarist doesn’t quite reach the level of smooth, skillful writing presented by those books but it provides interesting insight into a legendary woman. It also provides a fascinating look at how love feels from a young, slightly immature girl’s perspective. I saw a lot of my younger self in the pages of this story and it made me think about the past, and remember feelings I hadn’t felt in a long time. That alone made it worth the price of admission. The fact that it provided more information about the inner lives of the actors who played two iconic characters? Delicious icing on a very rich cake.