DIANA: HER TRUE STORY. By Andrew Morton. Simon & Schuster. 167 pages. $22.
FORGET Princess Diana hurling herself down the palace stairs a la Scarlett O'Hara. Forget the other, obviously halfhearted suicide attempts. This book is the real cry for help from a woman who, her biographer tells us, doesn't believe she will ever be queen. Good thinking.
The book is a current hot title, and veteran Fleet Street hack Andrew Morton more or less delivers the goods. Diana does what this kind of book is supposed to do: She tells you everything you already knew about a life you can't possibly imagine.
The people seem less like human beings and more like fictional hTC characters, and heavily archetypal characters at that. Diana was an innocent virgin thrust into a life no one who isn't born into it could possibly be prepared for; Prince Charles is a dour prig (his wife-to-be wasn't allowed to call him anything other than "Sir" until they were engaged) far more at ease with inanimate objects than with human beings; Fergie is a fun-loving hoyden; Queen Elizabeth is a nice woman who, like any matriarch whose dysfunctional family is splintering, seems helpless to do anything about it.
It's an odd book in many respects. Although British journalism is invariably more literate than the American variety, the writing is thoroughly undistinguished and there are even some glaring errors ("Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang" is not a Disney movie). There is a breathless tone that begins with the title and continues throughout. More than anything else, "Diana: Her True Story" is highly reminiscent of the fan-magazine writing of the '30s and '40s.
Mr. Morton buys into a lot of that bizarre mythology; Camilla Parker-Bowles, Prince Charles' longtime lover who has evidently maintained the relationship throughout his marriage, is referred to variously as "friend," "confidante" and a host of other euphemisms. It's as if the word "mistress" had been banished from the English vocabulary.
In the end, what we have is a perfectly nice, rather decent, extravagantly beautiful young woman hopelessly isolated and awash in feelings of helplessness and unworthiness in an environment made up entirely of rather dim, eccentric, hopelessly inbred royals.
It's really material for a novelist, or, if you are in a rather heartless mood, a brilliant satirist. (The husband of Camilla Bowles holds the delicious official title "Silver Stick in Waiting to the Queen." Seriously.)
From the "charming male chauvinist" that is Charles (Mr. Morton implies that he and his wife haven't slept together since 1987), to his younger brother Andrew, who is described as "happy to watch cartoons and videos on TV or aimlessly wander around the various royal apartments, chatting to kitchen staff," it is clear that this latest branch of the Hanover dynasty is fully up to the levels of eccentricity, not to mention stupidity, established by ancestors such as Queen Victoria and Edward VIII.
As for questions of authenticity, it's quite obvious that Mr. Morton had access to best friends, Diana's brother, her astrologer, the doctor who's treated her for various eating disorders such as bulimia, and a host of others who wouldn't have dared talk to a reporter without authorization from the princess.
Scott Eyman is a reviewer for Cox News Service.