book review: Untold Story by Monica Ali

Untold Story: A NovelThe 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.)

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!


  1. I hadn't heard of this before but it sounds really really interesting. I have been fascinated by Diana's life since I was a little kid. I will be adding this to my TBR list for when it releases in the States. Thanks for your review!

  2. This seems like a very unusual premise for a book, but from what you say about it, it seems to work. I do have to admit that I have a lot of curiosity about this book, as I loved Diana, so I may just have to read this one. Thanks for the great review!

  3. This is the first time I've heard about this book. I'm fascinated. Putting it on my list of ones to check out. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Oh, I can't wait for this one either!! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I hope it's okay if I add a link to your review to the South Asian Review Database.

  5. On description alone, I definitely would have passed on this but between it being a Monica Ali novel and your review, well, I'm sold!

    Also, based your enthusing for the Orange Prize, I've decided I'm going to start reading the short lists -- just have to decide if I'm starting this year and going backward or the other way around!

  6. Oh my goodness, how have I not heard of this! I love everything Diana so I am going to read this, not to mention the fact that I've read some of Ali's earlier works and loved them. Awesome!

  7. Untold Story seems like the kind of book that could easily be dismissed as mere fantasy, celebrity fiction. It seems like Ali managed to avoid that route, focusing more on the surrounding qualities that explain our fascination with certain figures.

  8. With all the hoopla surrounding the imminent royal wedding, it seems like the perfect time to read this one :)
    I still remember where I was when I heard about her accident. This is a book that I probably would have passed on, but your review makes it sound much more substantial than I thought it would be.

  9. Ever since a kid, I only hear of her stories from a lot of people until then that I saw this review. It really fascinate me into reading her story. The truth behind and everything.


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