The backstory: Since the moment I first heard about this novel, I was dying to read it.
The basics: In Untold Story, Monica Ali imagines a world where Princess Diana lived.
My thoughts: When I started the novel, all I knew were the basics. What I soon discovered, however, is even more interesting. The details of Diana's life are the same, until the crash we all (except perhaps the conspiracy theorists among us) know she died in. In this version, Diana decided to fake her only death shortly after the infamous accident in Paris. Here, she drowned, and her body was never found.
The book opens in a seemingly normal, non-descript American town named Kensington (yes, really). Three female friends are drinking white wine and waiting on Lydia to celebrate her birthday. Soon, the action flashes back one month, and we meet Lydia. As the pieces come together, it's lovely. Ali's writing is mesmerizing. It's both highly literary and immensely readable. The language is luminous, but it fits the plot, pace and story beautiful.
The novel is told in three voices: Lydia, as she talks about her life now, rightly serves as the chief narrator. It's her story, and the focus is on the now. We also slowly piece together the clues of how she managed to escape the life through journal entries and letters of her former personal assistant. Finally, we have Grabowski, a paparazzo who followed Diana for years. He's working on a book collection of his photos of her for the 10th anniversary of her death.
I loved the pace of this novel. It slowly draws the reader in, and as the three storylines connect, the character-driven novel morphs into a suspenseful one. I read this novel compulsively in a day and a half. It was fascinating, gripping and incredibly compelling.
Favorite passage: One curse of reading a fast-paced novel in print on the go: I couldn't bear to stop and write down passages (yet another reason I prefer to read on my Kindle.)
The verdict: Untold Story will not appeal to everyone. The quality of Ali's writing keeps what could easily be silly (Kensington) from becoming so. Diana diehards may call foul, but Ali manages to offer a fascinating cultural glimpse at a modern icon, an imaginative character-driven novel and a study of what it means to belong into one glorious novel.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: June 28, 2011 (U.S.); it's out now in the U.K. (you can pre-order the hardback or Kindle version from Amazon)
Source: I couldn't wait to read it, so I ordered it from the Book Depository (publishers, it's another reminder of how global the English reading community is. Please coordinate publishing dates better.)
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