When Princess Diana died in Paris's Alma tunnel, she was 37 years old. Had she lived, she would turn 50 on July 1, 2011. Who would the beloved icon be if she were alive today? What would she be doing? And where? One of the most versatile and bold writers of our time, Monica Ali has imagined a different fate for Diana in her spectacular new novel, Untold Story.
Diana's life and marriage were both fairytale and nightmare rolled into one. Adored by millions, she suffered rejection, heartbreak, and betrayal. Surrounded by glamour and glitz and the constant attention of the press, she fought to carve a meaningful role for herself in helping the needy and dispossessed. The contradictions and pressures of her situation fueled her increasingly reckless behavior, but her stature and her connection with her public never ceased to grow. If Diana had lived, would she ever have found peace and happiness, or would the curse of fame always have been too great?
Fast forward a decade after the (averted) Paris tragedy, and an Englishwoman named Lydia is living in a small, nondescript town somewhere in the American Midwest. She has a circle of friends: one owns a dress shop; one is a Realtor; another is a frenzied stay-at-home mom. Lydia volunteers at an animal shelter, and swims a lot. Her lover, who adores her, feels she won't let him know her. Who is she?
Untold Story is about the cost of celebrity, the meaning of identity, and the possibility - or impossibility - of reinventing a life. Ali's fictional princess is beautiful, intrepid, and resourceful, and has established a fragile peace. And then the past threatens to destroy her new life. Ali has created a riveting novel inspired by the cultural icon she calls "a gorgeous bundle of trouble."
Princess Diana still intrigues us 14 years after her fatal car crash in Paris, but what if she faked her death to live incognito in America? Monica Ali (author of the award-winning Brick Lane) posits this idea in Untold Story, which presents a Fringe-like alternate reality version of the Princess of Wales and her escape from the paparazzi glare. With the help of her faithful secretary, Lawrence, the princess has plastic surgery, moves to middle-America and becomes Lydia. She lives quietly in a gated community, hangs out with her girlfriends, worries about getting too involved with a lover, and volunteers at an animal shelter. But she's haunted by the realization that she'll never see her children again and that Lawrence, her last link to her old life, is dying of cancer. Then, one of the photographers that relentlessly stalked the princess sees a photo of Lydia and begins to suspect the most famous woman in the world might not be dead after all.
Untold Story requires a giant suspension of disbelief, but Ali's writing and the narration by noted English actors Emma Fielding and Nicholas Farrell help immensely. Fielding's regal voice is perfect for Lydia's inner dialogue, but her American accent is flat, which means Lydia's gal pals all sound the same – a bit nasally and unintentionally stoned. She can't quite lose her British accent. Farrell's reading of Lawrence is the real standout here. His affection and concern for the princess comes through in every rise and fall of Farrell's classically trained voice. While he's facing his own mortality, his thoughts continually wander back to Lydia, and his recollections of helping her escape to her new life are absolutely riveting.
Once the photographer, John "Grabber" Grabowski, figures out who Lydia is, the novel turns quasi-chase thriller, but it's Lydia's letters to Lawrence and his diary entries about how he helped the princess become Lydia that are the heart of this novel. Fielding's melancholy voice as Lydia writes to Lawrence, agonizing over her decision to disappear, are quite moving. Monica Ali has created a novel that is impossible to categorize – it's by turns a mystery, thriller, fantasy, and improbable revisionist history. For a few hours, Ali, through Fielding and Farrell, will have you convinced that the impossible is possible and that the Princess of Wales is still among us. Collin Kelley
“Haunting and intensely readable, this is something between a thriller and a ghost story.” (Lady Antonia Fraser)
“A masterpiece of suspense…. This is a startlingly intelligent, perceptive and entertaining piece of fiction. It's quite brilliant.” (Daily Mirror (UK))
"Thoughtful, compassionate…. A suspenseful and gripping read.” (Financial Times)
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