Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

The things I do to complete you, BBC Big Read list. Like read this book. This was totally not up my alley, another one that's on the list because people can agree most on books they liked as children and young adults. As we get older, our tastes get stronger, and we diversify. It means we can virtually all love Harry Potter, but when you read The Princess Diaries as a 38-year old married academic, there is all the eyerolling.

It's not the subject matter. Girl finds out she's a princess when her father's testicular cancer means he'll never have another shot at fathering a child, and so his bastard daughter is the only possible heir to the throne. (I'm not kidding, but that explanation kind of worked for me.) I mean, it's total fairy tale, but I like fluff sometimes.

When it's done well. What I don't like is lazy fluff. Like having an inconsistent main character. She hates fashion. She wears Doc Martens and overalls and doesn't want to dress up or care about fashion - and yet, when she's making a list for her grandmother of her top ten most admired women, the first two are on the list because they're fashionable. Could you make up your mind, Meg Cabot?

And the slang! It's straight out of Clueless, and I mean straight out of Clueless. I'd never seen anyone else refer to pretty women as Betties before, and there was another related piece of slang that's left my mind. The problem here is that Clueless is charming, and stylized and so, so Valley Girl. I am not sure that rich kids in New York are using the same slang. It was jarring, and left me wondering seriously about Meg Cabot's sources. Clueless for what the kids are saying these days? Really?

At any rate, we also have the main romantic plotline from Clueless where the girl realizes that instead of the pretty boy she's been pining over, what she really needs to do is notice the guy she's known best all along, and find love there. It can be done, and it can be done well. But here it's so obvious and creaky.

Mia is fine as a main character, for someone who is totally inconsistent and never for a moment thinks "hey, cool, I'm a princess." I have no problem with it becoming painfully and quickly obvious all the things that would suck about being royalty, but there's not one moment? Not even one?

It's about how she gets along at school once she knows and keeps it hidden, and how that changes when suddenly everyone knows and all the cool kids want to be her friend and take her to dances and get on the cover of the newspaper. And yeah, I'm probably being too nitpicky. But I didn't come to this book when I was a teenager. (It is not the sort of thing I would have been reading then anyway.) I came to it far too late in life, and now I have slogged through it and am three books from finishing the BBC Big Read. Phew!

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