Brown ignores all the starchy obligations of biography and adopts a form of his own to trap the past and ensnare the reader — even this reader, so determinedly indifferent to the royals. I ripped through the book with the avidity of Margaret attacking her morning vodka and orange juice ... [Brown] swoops at his subject from unexpected angles — it’s a Cubist portrait of the lady ... The wisdom of the book, and the artistry, is in how Brown subtly expands his lens from Margaret’s misbehavior ... History isn’t written by the victors, he reminds us, it’s written by the writers, and this study becomes a scathing group portrait of a generation of carnivorous royal watchers ... Without ever explicitly positioning Margaret for our pity, Brown reveals how we elevate in order to destroy.
Craig Brown’s delectable Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is not a novel, though its subject seems like a sublime work of fiction, too imperious to be true ... How people betrayed Margaret! Though she never did much of anything, the princess appears in so many memoirs, a Zelig with bouffant hair sucking on a cigarette holder ... Brown has done something astonishing: He makes the reader care, even sympathize, with perhaps the last subject worthy of such affection. A wit and gimlet-eyed observer, Brown engages in flights of fancy, chapters that imagine her life as it might have been if she had been free to marry Townsend or Picasso, had she been free at all ... His book is big fun, equal measures insightful and hysterical.
Ninety-Nine Glimpses is not a conventional biography, but rather a series of telling reflections in ninety-nine brief chapters on the royal and the gaze, on how Princess Margaret was viewed and judged over time ... The openness of form that Brown, a satirist and veteran columnist for almost every British paper, allows himself, including techniques of fiction, is as unexpected as his attitude toward his subject and his witnesses ... The most provocative story Ninety-Nine Glimpses tells is how mean the bohemian milieu in midcentury London could be, how heartless the British upper classes were, and how little they needed the Sixties and social change to swing.
So, I looked forward to a joy ride with this book, imagining myself breezing along in a sleek, vintage Jaguar XK convertible—top down, laughter rising to the skies. But midway through, I felt stuck in a dilapidated jalopy, gears jammed with sludge. My fault, I’m sure, for not finding humor in the grotesquerie of a spoiled brat so blinded by entitlement that she flicks cigarette ashes into a servant’s hand because she can’t find an ashtray; who announces at a dinner party that the host’s food looks like upchuck ... Perhaps Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses is intended to be an indictment of the British monarchy and its pernicious class system. If so, he’s written a masterpiece, especially for those disinclined to crack a knee and curtsy to the crown. He is highly skilled at dissecting the cruel crevices of class in the U.K. ... His 'glimpses' are the literary version of mating a donkey to a horse and getting a mule: nothing short of jackass brilliance.
...a brilliant, eccentric treat, the literary equivalent of being buttonholed by one of the most entertaining people you will ever meet ... The list of Margaret-linked names seems endless, but Mr. Brown is undaunted. Confronting this embarrassment of riches (and wonderfully embarrassing much of it is), he sidesteps tedium by presenting his subject in a variety of sketches—some real, some imagined, all inspired—to produce a faceted, even sympathetic, portrait of idleness incarnate and ego run amok ... Margaret barges her way through Mr. Brown’s pages while he keeps his ironic distance, a sharpshooter’s distance, picking off posers and toadies, the pompous and the vile.
[I] barely put it down until I was done ... Brown, a brilliant British writer and satirist, reclaims Margaret through 99 short chapters. He seems to have absorbed everything ever recorded about the princess and her times ... This unsettling, incisive and honest book also manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, and is a startlingly original contribution to the genre of biography.
Craig Brown captures Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister perfectly ... [a] brilliant meta-biography ... part of the pleasure of 99 Glimpses is the fun he has with his ghastly/hilarious source material. The most egregious stuff—the lyrical bitchiness, the truly subterranean tattle—he will quote without comment, but with a kind of deadpan relish humming in the background. It is precisely his satirist’s sensibility, his overdeveloped ear for stylistic grotesquerie, that qualifies Brown to write about Princess Margaret ... in Brown, most enjoyably for the reader, she has met her pasticheur.
Rather than deciding on any one version, Brown has let the effervescent biography Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret expand 'like the universe itself,' ranging freely from certified fact through opinion, speculation, gossip, fantasy, dreams, fiction and flights of counterfactual whimsy ... In addition to giving us a fantastical portrait of a woman painted by many hands, this wicked, thoroughly entertaining book presents a rich, unwholesome slice of social and cultural history of Britain.
It’s a remarkable achievement on the part of Brown, a columnist for the British satirical magazine Private Eye, to build a book as entertaining, daring and moving as Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret around this shell of a woman ... since Margaret made bonfires of her private letters and documents before she died, he must look for her in books written by hangers-on and disloyal servants, and tease out the significance of chance encounters and coincidences. The result is a book that says as much about 20th-century British culture and history as it does about its subject ... Brown’s skill is to keep shifting the angle of vision and with it, our sympathies, creating a story considerably more fascinating than its subject deserves.
Fans of The Crown will be fascinated by this deeper dive into the life of the sister who did not become queen ... [an] engrossing book ... Brown's book (first published in England as Ma'am Darling) is the latest in a crammed bookcase full of biographies of Princess Margaret, but it's unlike any of them in its approach ... Brown's book is the most artful, the most fascinating, and the most damning symphony of those raconteurs ever likely to be composed ... There's plenty of delight in Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret as well, but it's a very pointed kind of delight, crafted perfectly for the lover of acid deadpan and knowing innuendo.
I’m certain you’ll find Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, which surfaced as a frequent year-end favorite this year, delicious ... Craig Brown, a British journalist, critic, and humorist, has pulled off an amazing stunt: by ignoring the conventions of straightforward biography, he has written a fascinating account of a tedious woman ... Brown wraps all this dishing in a silky package of sophisticated wit ... The book inevitably becomes darker, and we do become sympathetic to this deeply unhappy woman.
Brown, a longtime contributor to Private Eye magazine, is capable of witty concision ... His Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, some of them Rashomonian, are mostly fast and entertaining ... Too much of the book, like so much of its subject’s life, is extraneous ... It isn’t a thirst for fairness that makes one bring a book like this to the beach, but here and there a reader may wish the author had given Margaret a smidgen more credit.
Brown has done something amazing ... It is a cubist book, a collection of acute angles through which you see its subject and her world (and, to an extent, our world) anew ... His reading has been prodigious: not only the diaries of everyone from Chips Channon to AL Rowse, but dozens of gruesome royal biographies and memoirs...Together, these things conjure Margaret in all her dubious glory. Nancy Mitford likened her to a 'hedgehog covered in primroses,' but the reader will come to feel this is unfair to hedgehogs.
The effect is like one of those sweeping Klimt portraits, in which the comet trail of colourful fragments leaves a lasting, wistful impression of an era on the skids. The book is extremely funny and extremely sad ... At the end of the book, only the hardest heart would repress a twitch of sympathy. To live on the receiving end of so much gush and so much abuse, to be simultaneously spoilt rotten and hopelessly infantilised, how well would any of us stand up to it?
Brown offers an acerbic biography of the star-crossed princess, one that is hilarious and bittersweet in turns ... All of these stories have been told countless times already, and Brown rather brilliantly parses the different accounts for what they tell us about the teller. Brown considers all the angles of many apocryphal stories, especially the ribald ones ... a surprisingly substantial page-turner. Brown’s gift for satire is tempered with a genuinely humane portrayal of the emptiness of the princess’s life ... Brown’s book is highly recommended for all American royal-watchers.
Most chapters are gems, with a perfectly adapted authorial voice and just the right amount of detail. A few seem misguided or pointless. If you’re someone who finds royal families intriguing or just entertaining because of the really odd humans they produce, or if you have a general interest in British public life and culture in the 20th century, Ninety-Nine Glimpses is a good bet. It’s fun, sometimes sad, sometimes enlightening, and does the difficult job of combining glitter with substance.
[Brown] spares little in his scrutiny as the references hopscotch from the ubiquitous mentions of Margaret’s name in notable texts and palace announcements to the post-mortem sale pricing of her jewelry collection. In a moment of parody, one of Brown’s specialties, he hilariously imagines Margaret’s marriage to Pablo Picasso ... Collectively, the narrative creates a brutally honest yet dramatically unflattering portrait of Margaret’s regal sybaritic lifestyle ... Fusing facts with fancifulness, Brown’s barbed, devilishly entertaining narrative exposes Margaret for the majesty she embodied ... An endlessly provocative and deliciously scandalous book for royal watchers.