Sunday, 4 September 2011

New books: A royal couple of their times

Among the several books published to mark the Crown Prince and Crown Princess’s tenth wedding anniversary is Haakon og Mette-Marit i ti år by Liv Berit Tessem, a journalist of Norway’s largest newspaper Aftenposten who also wrote a book about them ten years ago.
While Aasta Børte and Monica Aafløy Hansen in their anniversary book chose a thematic approach, Tessem arranges her richly illustrated book year by year. Each chapter ends with a list of some of the events of that year, but Tessem adds the original twist of letting each chapter evolve around a topic related to one of the key events of the year.
For instance, the chapter on the year 2002, when the newlyweds moved to London to study, evolves around the education of kings; the chapter on 2007, which saw the death of the Crown Princess’s father, who had been turned into some sort of media clown, deals with the crown princely couple’s relations with media; the chapter on 2008, when the Crown Princess put together a CD containing her favourite psalms, deals with the couple’s religion; and the chapter on 2010, the year of the Swedish royal wedding, evolves around the new generation of European royalty.
This is an approach which works well and makes the book something more than just a chronicle of ten years in the public spotlight. At first sight the book may resemble the rather unreflective picture postcard royal books which flooded the book market in the 1980s, but this approach enables the author to say something intelligent and thoughtful about the development of the crown princely couple’s role through the first decade and to look closer at various aspects of it.
The weakness of the book is that it appears to have been produced in haste, which has resulted in some odd phrases and wordings but also in a rather large number of factual mistakes. To name some of several examples Diana, Princess of Wales did not die “a few years” after her divorce, but the following year; it is not correct that neither of the King’s sister has any higher education (Princess Astrid studied in Oxford); the former Duchess of York was never styled “Princess Sarah in Britain”; the King’s illness in 2003-2004 was not the first time the Crown Prince served as regent; the crown princely couple do not make state visits; gun salutes were not fired all over the country when the Crown Princess’s pregnancy was announced, but when the child was born; Taj Mahal is not a palace, but a mausoleum; even if Bulgaria had been a monarchy Princess Rosario’s husband Kyril would not have been its crown prince; Princess Mathilde of Belgium was not a countess before she married; the King of Sweden’s humiliating TV interview earlier this year was not done in a TV studio but in his office; and of course the great jubilee in 2005 did not mark the centenary of Norway’s independence, but of the dissolution of the union of crowns with Sweden.
Such factual mistakes could easily have been avoided if the publisher Schibsted Forlag had taken the time to proof-read the book properly. It is not the first time Schibsted fails this test and it is a shame that such carelessness is allowed to pollute what is in itself a book more intelligent and interesting than the average anniversary book.

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