Four months after Amanda Knox was acquitted of murdering Meredith Kercher, HarperCollins has paid her several million dollars for her memoirs. We will soon be able, we’re told, to hear ‘her side of the story’ – except that her side, an account of the ‘nightmarish ordeal that placed her at the centre of a media storm’, to be told with the help of a ‘collaborator’, already sounds a little familiar.
Meanwhile, Knox’s ex-boyfriend and co-accused, Raffaele Sollecito, has acquired his own ghostwriter, who is apparently promising to deliver ‘a love story, a harrowing description of an innocent young man in prison, a full-blooded Italian family drama, and a legal thriller’. National stereotypes have thrived in the coverage of the case: we’ve heard several times about Knox’s marathon interrogation by police who’d been ‘trained to break the mafia’. The Knox book doesn’t sound quite so juicy – her publishers anticipate something ‘very thoughtful, reflective and serious’ – but then it doesn’t need to. Amanda Knox comes late to her own story: the overwriting has been more than taken care of by the international media.
During the years Knox spent locked up in Perugia, her image – in court, on the news, in the tabloids, broadsheets, numerous books and even a TV movie – was curiously mobile. Her youth and wholesome good looks played both for and against her in the press, and as the case grew murkier, the portrayal of Knox only grew less nuanced. She’s always one thing or the other, a modern incarnation of Wanda from Venus in Furs or an American Amèlie, a demon or a martyr: some of her supporters wore white wristbands like the ones for the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign; one of the their websites displayed a holy spirit dove next to her picture.
Even Sollecito’s lawyer, asking the appeal court to ignore the misrepresentations of Knox, felt moved to compare her to Jessica Rabbit: not a femme fatale, but ‘faithful and loving’; not bad, just ‘drawn that way’. Every scrap of information about her could be read two ways: the dry-eyed woman kissing and turning cartwheels after her friend’s murder or the one in shock, seeking comfort from her boyfriend and trying to calm herself with yoga exercises; known as ‘Foxy’ either because of her promiscuity or her soccer skills as an eight-year-old.
When Hayden Panettiere played Knox, then still awaiting appeal, in a Lifetime movie, she was quoted as saying: ‘This wasn’t a dark, angry girl. She was a young girl with dreams and aspirations. I don’t think guilty or innocent takes away from that’ – which sounds bizarre even by the standards of Hollywood PR gush but may be true as far as the movie goes (I haven’t seen it). Selling books is another matter, however. One of the publishers who stayed out of the bidding for Knox’s book said it was a ‘huge gamble’ because ‘it’s not like she has been exonerated in a clear and definitive way.’ Italian prosecutors have launched an appeal against the acquittal.
For Knox’s publisher, the court of American public opinion – convinced of Knox’s innocence – probably matters more than the Court of Cassation in Rome. In 2006, HarperCollins were forced at the last minute to pull O.J. Simpson’s memoirish, novelish If I Did It. ‘I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,’ Rupert Murdoch said. Simpson, whose ghostwriter had been a witness at the original trial, later lost the rights to his book to the Goldman family (he still owes them more than $30 million). They released it with a cover on which the shrunken ‘if’ is all but invisible inside the first letter of ‘I DID IT’.
Regardless of whether Knox should make money from all this (and it’s not clear she’ll make much, once she’s paid off the debts incurred to cover her legal fees), the book project sounds strangely uncompelling. You hardly need to read HarperCollins’s advance blurb describing ‘how she used her inner strength and strong family ties to cope with the most challenging time of her young life’ to suspect that Knox’s account of herself and of events will be unexceptionable and uncontradictory, that she will have learnt her lesson and won’t express mixed feelings.
The 20-year-old Knox, who didn’t realise that she should cry, smile, kiss, do yoga and buy underwear only in the right ways and at the right times, must be long gone. I suspect she might have written a more surprising memoir than the 24-year-old one will, but then she wouldn’t have been asked. The ongoing media creation of Amanda Knox, which has obscured the memory of Meredith Kercher, seems likely to end with a story that few will disapprove of, and few will want to read.