Books about Social Isolation: Spare, and Meredith Alone
Today I am reviewing two books about struggling with social isolation. These are the perfect
post-Covid books to uplift and launch us into Spring!
I was riveted the moment I began listening to Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, in his own voice. I
wouldn’t say, as others have, that it’s a “tell-all” story of the British monarchy, but rather an
inside view of the challenges of growing up in the House of Windsor. As a child, Harry had many happy moments, especially at Balmoral Castle:
“To me, Balmoral was always simply paradise. A cross between Disney World and some sacred Druid grove. I was always…fishing, shooting, running up and down the hill…. I was happy there.”
Prince William (“The Heir”) and Prince Harry (“The Spare”) loved to be outdoors, as did The
Queen, “who got cross if she didn’t breathe at least an hour of fresh air each day.” But along
with enjoying life as a prince, Harry, along with his family, was constantly harassed by
paparazzi, which he refers to as “paps.” Harry recounts the excruciating pain of walking with
William behind his mother’s casket after she had died in a car crash while getting chased into a tunnel by paps. As a young adult, two paps are particularly relentless in shadowing his every move, a pair he calls “Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber”.
Harry didn’t live a life of luxury, especially since as William had offspring, Harry’s status as the “spare” king dwindled to sixth in line to the throne. He was on an allowance from his father, Prince Charles, which covered an austere living including only his dressy or ceremonial clothes:
“For my everyday casual clothes I’d go to T.K. Maxx (the British version of our T.J. Maxx), the
discount store. I was particularly fond of their once-a-year sale, when they’d be flush with items
from Gap or J. Crew, items that had just gone out of season or were slightly damaged.”
I found the sections where Harry humbly describes his experiences fighting in the army in
Afghanistan a tad dull, but I’m sure that for many readers that will be the most interesting
aspect of his story. He kept track of the enemy soldiers he killed (25) because he wanted to hold himself accountable.
While going back and forth from army duty, Harry tries to date women, but they become so
traumatized by the paps and the constant negative press, that the relationships are doomed to
failure. Just when he is feeling desperate to get married and start a family, Harry comes upon
actress Meghan Markle’s Instagram post, and is instantly smitten. He and Meghan manage to
keep their deepening relationship a secret for a blissful few weeks, but inevitably, everyone
from worldwide journalists to his own family, weigh in with their opinions about the suitability
of the relationship.
Most devastating to Harry is that his family doesn’t stand up to the tabloid press when they
tear into and unapologetically lie about Meghan, causing her to become emotionally unstable.
The Royal Family nearly always maintains a “no comment” attitude towards the British press,
believing it best to let negative press run its nefarious course. The former Prince Charles’s
answer is always, “Don’t read it, darling boy.”
One might ask why Prince Harry wrote a memoir if he, as he maintains, wants a more private
life. My sense is that after all the lies spread by the tabloids, and the fact that Prince William
and the now King Charles claim to have no idea why Harry and Meghan chose to renounce their titles and live in the US, Harry wants to set the record straight once and for all, so that
emotionally he can move on. With help from a notable ghost writer, Spare is a well-written
moving story that not only condemns the press but also elicits our empathy for all the Royal
Family has to endure on a daily basis. Since moving to California, Harry and Meghan have
acquired the quintessential American values for freedom, privacy and good health, and we
close the book wishing them well, and glad for the simple pleasure of being able to pop into our local café for a cup of coffee.
Audiobook (recommended!) 15 Hours 39 minutes, Hardcover 416 pages
“For better or for worse, life can change in a matter of seconds….People take their first and last breaths. Cars crash, planes plunge into oceans. The healing process can begin with a simple gesture.”
40-year-old Meredith Maggs is a hermit—she hasn’t left her Glasgow home in 1,214 days. She copes by ordering her groceries and supplies online, working remotely, seeing a therapist
online, and occasionally asking her best friend Sadie for help.
When Sadie’s concern for Meredith leads to contact with a man named Tom McDermott from a
charity called Holding Hands, she allows him to visit her weekly to do jigsaw puzzles, chat, and make sure she’s ok. Meredith also befriends a woman named Celeste whom she meets in an online support group. Though she enjoys her cat, loves to bake and does 20 minutes of cardio every day, Meredith begins to miss swimming, she misses the closeness she once had with her estranged sister Fiona, and longs “for someone else’s skin against mine.”
As Meredith begins to take steps towards being social, we learn more about Fiona, and their
abusive mother, and about the traumatic event that launched Meredith into self-imposed
"Maybe it wasn’t too late to consider a different version of myself from the one Mama had
strapped me into, like a too-tight coat.”
The author Claire Alexander tells Meredith’s story from both the present and the past; the
more we learn about Meredith, the more we love her for her depth, courage and kindness. This is a wonderful story of healing, acceptance and self-actualization.
Audiobook 10 hours, 16 Minutes, Hardcover 368 pages
Next Review: All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me (possibly one of my all-time favorite books!) Reading now: Someone Else's Shoes.