BOOK REVIEW / Confessions of a wilful Pusscat: 'A Right Royal Bastard' - Sarah Miles: Macmillan, 16.99

Rhoda Koenig
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:18

LIKE her grandfather, the son of Queen Mary's wayward brother, Sarah Miles is illegitimate. As she tells us, she was also given to behaviour that would have had a less self-conscious mother constantly screaming, 'You little . . .]' A combination of Grace Kelly and Vivien Leigh, Mrs Miles was a blonde goddess ('Some women, like Mummy, don't have to do a damn thing except keep crossing their long daffodil stalks and the whole world drools'), but her looks never won compliance from Pusscat, as Sarah was called. (She had a sister, Pooker, and brothers, Chuzzer and Jukes.) At what is wrongly called a tender age, Pusscat pushed Chuzzer into the millpond, yelling 'Drown]'.

Miles adored her father, who lived with his family in prosperous Essex domesticity. She compared him favourably with Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling and with a future lover, Laurence Olivier, whose photograph she worshipped after seeing him in Wuthering Heights. ('Something snapped inside me; something that hitherto had been taut yet numb became a feeling, soft and pliable.') But childhood and adolescence were awash with misery: Mummy's coldness and her own dyslexia, stammer and general goofiness led her to share the pig's straw at night and got her expelled from a string of public schools. There was, perhaps, a want of humour on the part of the school where, in response to the visiting Queen Mother's polite query, she curtsied and said, 'I hate it, Ma'am.'

Miles's memoirs stop when she is 18 (another volume is planned), giving her plenty of time to record her discovery of death, puberty, Crunchie bars, 'Ee-Ees' - 'I loathe the word 'masturbation'. It sounds almost as alienating as 'meditation'. But I fear both will become more and more necessary for releasing dense dark energies as the chaos on Earth thickens' - and other kinds of sex. Given her propensity for blithely getting into cars or going up alleyways with strange men, she did well to experience nothing worse than an abortion (after an affair with James Fox) and being groped by a lesbian tart while at RADA. The book ends with her winning the role of a schoolroom Lolita in Term of Trial and saying hello to her co-star, Laurence Olivier.

Miles writes better than one would expect - the childhood episodes have a kind of daffy charm, the reconstruction of confused emotions rings true - but not well enough to redeem the grandiosity of the conception. The doggies, knicker-wetting and traffic accidents that have constituted a life which shuts down just when things are getting interesting releases the dark thought that this is perhaps not the sort of thing for which the public is happy to pay pounds 16.99.

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