Lewis Jones

Bookends: Pearl before swine

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Here is the latest Bookends column from this week's issue of the Spectator:

The Poor Little Rich Girl memoir, popular for at least a century, nowadays slums it in the misery department. ‘One particularly annoying aspect of being sexually abused or traumatised as a child,’ writes Ivana Lowell in Why not Say what Happened? (Bloomsbury, £25), ‘is that everyone wants you to talk about it.’ Does she mean ‘everyone’, or just her agent, publisher and ‘many psychiatrists’?

Ivana Lowell is third-generation PLRG: daughter of Caroline Blackwood, doomy muse of Lucian Freud and Robert Lowell, and author of pitilessly miserable fiction; granddaughter of the 4th Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava (as she remained for two further marriages), who in 1998 observed, ‘The only problem the Guinnesses don’t have is money.’

When Ivana was six she was molested by her nanny’s husband, who threatened her with his dog. Soon afterwards she spilt a kettle of boiling water over herself, sustaining third-degree burns over 70 per cent of her body. At Dartington Hall she ‘discovered what was to become my favourite pastime of all: drinking’, and she is an old girl of detox and rehab. When her sister died of an overdose at 18, the headline was GUINNESS CURSE STRIKES AGAIN. She now sees the Curse as ‘a handy way to excuse generations of entitlement, self-indulgence and general bad behavior’.

Though somewhat AA in tone, Why does have its moments: Princess Margaret at a party, singing Cole Porter off-key, booed by Francis Bacon. ‘Someone had to stop her.’