I read The Bench by Meghan Markle and I have THOUGHTS! – Book Review

I should actually say that I read The Bench by Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong but Meghan and Harry lost their Duke and Duchess titles when they left the royal fold, didn’t they? Is she still able to use the title Duchess of Sussex anymore? I could be totally off-base, but I didn’t think she was.

So let’s start here, shall we. As I said in my title to this post, I read The Bench, Meghan Markle’s first children’s book, and I have a lot of thoughts about it, not only from the standpoint of a reader but also as a mother to a son who is almost the same age as Meghan’s son Archie. To start, I find it very interesting that Meghan chose to not only use but emphasize the moniker “Duchess of Sussex” when authoring this book. Meghan has professed to want to distance herself from the British royal family for some perfectly valid and understandable reasons, such as systemic racism and their unwillingness to help her during her battles with mental illness during her pregnancy. So, for someone who wants to be removed from this establishment, from “the firm” as she referred to it in her controversial interview with Oprah, it is a strange choice to adopt and seemingly embrace a royal title when doing something as significant as writing a book (to the point of even dropping her own last name). During my own pregnancy with my son, I became estranged from one of my best friends who I worked with, and I wanted nothing more after this conflict than to separate myself in every way possible from both my friend and the company we both worked for. It made me feel anxious and unsettled to even see or think about anything having to do with the conflict and my former workplace, and I cannot imagine continuing to use my job title at that company in public parlance. It would’ve felt kind of gross and inappropriate and ultimately would’ve been detrimental to my self-confidence and mental wellbeing. If Meghan was as harmed and traumatized as she claimed to be by her experiences with the royal family, I wonder why and how she could still feel comfortable using a title so tied up in their history and tradition. It is an odd choice in my opinion and one that feels somehow political, as if she is making a statement about wanting to be both her own person but also continuing to benefit from the prestige and publicity that being part of the monarchy afforded her.

Then, let’s move to her bio at the end of the book. In it, Meghan chooses to prominently highlight above all else that she is a “mother” and “wife”. I respect that — she is choosing to emphasize her roles within her family above any of her other occupations. Having said that, when Meghan’s bio describes that she currently resides in her “home state” of California with “her family”, it feels a bit sneaky. We as the reader are well aware of who Meghan and her family are, and writing something so veiled seems destined to make readers roll their eyes. Placing emphasis on the fact that California is her home also feels very heavy-handed, almost as though she is sticking it to the country that her husband is from and that he will forever be so entwined with historically. The United States might be Meghan’s home, but she seems to discount how significant England will always be in her husband’s lineage, and that sort of feels like a hurtful omission. If I were Harry, I wonder how I would feel about Meghan writing my country of origin out of our family’s story.

And all of these observations struck me before I even started reading the story itself, which is so obviously a statement about Meghan’s ownership of Harry. The tale is sweet enough and the illustrations are just lovely, but there is nothing special or unique about it. It is very simply written and although it is clearly meant to be poetic, it isn’t out-of-this-world original or particularly well-written. What it is, though, is focused on the relationship between a father and son, as seen through the gaze of the wife/mother figure. It is very much about Meghan’s experience of watching Harry and Archie together, and why this is interesting is because it comes across as a clear staking of claim over these two individuals. It seems as though Meghan is writing this story to remind Harry that he is hers (and NO ONE else’s), that if he wants to be a good father to Archie, he needs to stay right where he is. Somehow it seemed to me like a woman at risk of losing everything, doing her best to hold onto it all by showing her husband how wonderful and amazing everything is, even if deep down there is doubt. Meghan came across as a bit desperate to me, and it all felt too overly done, too over-the-top. It was almost as if Meghan was saying, “Look at us! We’re so happy — aren’t we, Harry? Aren’t you just so happy on this bench with our child? Don’t you think leaving this bench would be a terrible mistake?”

Maybe I am reading into things because of how unsettled Meghan’s interview with Oprah made me feel. At first, I was impressed by Meghan and felt inspired by her openness about her struggles with mental illness. But as I sat with it for a bit longer, I felt a bit uncertain about the whole thing: it felt almost as if I had witnessed a gossip session that should’ve stayed private, and the more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I felt Harry to be. It can’t have been easy for him to let Meghan speak so openly about his family in that way, particularly when his brother and sister-in-law were mentioned, and I almost wished that Meghan had stayed silent. Not because I believe she should be silenced, but because sometimes I think in silence there is strength. Sometimes telling your story isn’t necessary, and while I applaud Meghan for advocating for mental health, I don’t know if her getting into the nitty gritty of her conflicts with Kate Middleton and such was the best move. As I said before, I had a conflict when I was pregnant with my best friend, and I remember vividly running into one of our mutual friends shortly after and wanting to tell her exactly what happened, wanting to clear the air and explain that I didn’t act the way I did without reason. But, I didn’t — I didn’t mention a thing even though it killed me not to and I found myself close to tears after the exchange. I just felt in my heart that saying things that could be later construed as gossip wasn’t right, and while part of me wanted to defend myself, I knew deep down that it didn’t matter what anyone thought and that my silence was more dignified and would make me stronger. Again, I’m not trying to imply that people should be silenced, but Meghan is very aware of how much influence she has and I think that speaking about petty conflicts with Harry’s family members took away from the more serious, institutional issues that she could’ve drawn greater attention to.

I don’t know — it’s all left me feeling muddled and confused because I respected Meghan and I believe every woman who faces mental health struggles during her pregnancy MUST be supported. But this book, which isn’t really that spectacular as far as children’s books go unfortunately, feels like a power move that made me question Meghan’s authenticity.

I could be way wrong here, and I am certainly open to hearing from those who loved this book and think Meghan was totally in the right in all of her actions. I’m just left with a sour taste in my mouth after reading this one, sadly.

jng

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