Untold Story, by Monica Ali (New York: Scribner, 2011).
"When Princess Diana died in Paris's Alma tunnel, she was thirty-seven years old. Had she lived, she would turn fifty on July 1, 2011. Who would the beloved icon be if she were alive today? What would she be doing? And where? ... Monica Ali has imagined a different fate for Diana in her spectacular new novel, Untold Story.
"Diana's life and marriage were both fairy tale 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 contradiction 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 works 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 new novel inspired by the cultural icon she calls 'a gorgeous bundle of trouble.'"
"Some stories are never meant to be told. Some can only be told as fairy tales."
This was a happy accident. Not a day after I'd first heard about this book in an NPR review -- I hadn't even gotten around to adding it to my "wanna read" list -- I went to the library and found three brand-new copies on the new fiction list. All three are checked out now, one to me -- so I guess I'm glad I got it when I did. We'll see if it's worth the bother.
(more than a month later) I've said this before, but in a word (or a grunt), meh. Intriguing concept in theory, but pretty darned boring in its implementation. Perhaps the whole point of the book is that Lydia's got the lid clamped down on her infamous past so tightly that no one can get close enough to see the person she's trying to be and life she's trying to have now, but unfortunately ... the reader really can't get close enough to care about her, either. Unless you're one of those folks -- I know there are or were scads out there, though I don't know any -- who really had a Princess Diana fetish, don't waste your time.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.