Three Bio’s for January.
It was the best of times but also the worst of times to read Wishful Drinking (2009) and The Princess Diarist (2016) by Carrie Fisher.
The worst because Carrie Fisher passed just after Christmas but the best because her life was now framed by these books and her other writing. The portrait of her life was now complete with much of it painted by herself. The sin; too young. On the other hand, what a life!
Wishful Drinking is a quick ride through her life up to a certain point. It covers Carrie’s family, films, marriage, break-ups and lots of introspection. It is done with candour and wit, but you know this already so why be another person writing another review? Because shortly after finishing both Carrie Fisher’s books I re-read Marianne Faithfull’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections (2007). I could see connections with aspects of their lives.
I think that there is something nice about re-reading a book, maybe a couple of years after the first read. I think that in a first read of Memories, Dreams and Reflections I found the familiar names connected with Marianne’s life, the impact that became years of addiction with a period of homelessness and subsequent recognition of her lyrical artist capabilities in a different direction. Marianne does not disappoint and is as candid as Carrie in her observations.
A second read though introduced me to a deeper understanding of Marianne. The same stories I first read are still dominating the book but I extracted a different understanding from them, or small points that you missed, such as her observation of Brian Epstein and others in that circle. It is the newer and more unfamiliar stories that sink in more on a second reading. I think that is because her book gets all the usual stories about Marianne out of the way, she does not linger on them because these have been relayed before by her and by a bastardisation from others; i.e the Redlands police raid.
Marianne connects us to her family struggle during and post-war but also to other people — characters it could be said — who played such an important part of her life, her songwriting and collaboration with others in her music. One of those people Marianne mentions as a friend is Carrie Fisher.
Both had drug and alcohol problems but while Carrie seemed to wish to continue with her role in the life and expand that from film acting to writing, Marianne wanted to disappear. Which she did to a life on the wall and an odd meal provided by Francis Bacon, not the typical addiction story but who is really looking for that all the time. Then emerging some years later from life on her wall.
Both these women built a different career from one in which they were and to an extent are defined. I wonder if their fall into drugs changed that career? Carrie may have been defined as Princess Lea but a reasonable percent know and understand that she far outgrew that role through writing, working as an uncredited script-doctor and as an actress. In her passing how many times did the mainstream press fail to go into any depth of her talent as a writer on different forms or as an actress in Hannah and her Sisters, When Harry Met Sally or the TV series Catastrophe.
For Marianne her Princess Lea moment is her early career. Over-archingly this actually means her relationship with Mick Jagger. Some mainstream press often don’t want to concentrate on her talent for song writing and probably don’t know or can explain her teaching role at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. It doesn’t fit in with the tragic-connected-to-a-pop-star-then-fall-from-grace story. You will understand when you read the book, which I recommend you do.
The Princess Diarist from Carrie I enjoyed but struggled with the chapter on her affair with Harrison Ford. I read it feeling that it was all going to be something unreal, a fantasy. It felt that there were pages of apologies and indecision before she revealed how it happened. Even then there felt like a lot of things left unsaid. I still was waiting for the bit at the end of the chapter saying, “you know what, I can’t remember now if it happened or not!”. It turns out to be true though but I suppose for us the reader it is one of those things that Carrie Fisher is known for, being unfiltered and honest. Perhaps now we would have never known about the affair but I think, in hindsight, that the story is now in print to counter any accusations or gossip now that she is no longer around to defend herself.
Marianne, however, is very much alive and still working. Let us hope there are some more new writings from her. Her portrait is not ready for finishing yet.