Monica Ali's new novel is unconvincing but entertaining. Where would Princess Diana be now if she faked her death?
I'll admit to rolling my eyes a bit when I first heard about this book. After all, Monica Ali is a UK writer known for her middlebrow literary fare, so what on earth did she think she was doing writing a novel about the late Princess Diana? Was she being ironic? Attempting a patronising pastiche? Or launching a career change into chick lit? Having read the book I'm still not sure, but I'll admit I found it entertaining.
Untold Story imagines what might have happened if Diana had survived the car crash in the Alma Tunnel and, in a desperate bid to escape the insanity of her existence, gone on to fake her own death with the help of a loyal private secretary. Diana is never actually named. Instead, we meet her 10 years later, a pretty but unremarkable woman called Lydia Snaresbrook, who is living in the small American town of Kensington, working at an animal shelter and being very cagey about her personal details with even her closest friends.
Purely by chance, Lydia's old nemesis, paparazzi snapper John Grabowski, turns up in town. He's supposed to be working on a book of his photographs, but when he spots Lydia's distinctive ultramarine eyes, he suspects he's stumbled on the scoop of his career.
This fantastical story is told mostly from three angles. There's Lydia's tale of the wrench of leaving her beloved sons and her struggle to create her new, rather mundane life after extensive plastic surgery. There are diary entries from Lawrence Standing, the fictional private secretary who facilitates her "little plan", and there is the paparazzo's telling of his role in what happens next.
It's a pacey, soapy, potboiler of a read. Although I didn't find it in particularly bad taste, I suspect some diehard Princess Diana fans may. But I remain confused as to why Ali felt she had anything new and illuminating to add to the legend, as really this is nothing more than a rehash of everything we've already heard with a great big "what if" label stuck to it.
Ali never convinced me that a woman who adored her sons would have abandoned them for purely selfish reasons ... or that a woman who didn't care for dogs would end up doting on them ... or that Diana really could have lived without the oxygen of publicity.
However, had Untold Story not been written by an author of her pedigree, then I might not have expected it to. The book can be enjoyed purely for what it is - a page-turner, suspenseful and imaginative, amusing, girly and undemanding.