21 Apr 2012

Review: "Untold Story" by Monica Ali

There is something about book based on real persons... By using figures that are essentially real, they inhabit a strange land inbetween fiction and non-fiction and I have always found this grey-zone really interesting. One of the books that I found does this really well is "Life Mask" by Emma Donoghue about the actress Eliza Farren and the sculptress Anne Damer - it had me heading straight for the National Portrait Gallery to see sculptures.

"Untold Story" by Monica Ali is pure fiction but it is based on Princess Diana. The Diana. Princess of Wales. And to be honest, I had no idea to how to handle this. Is it wrong, is it right? Is it disrespectful or is  she making use of the artistic right of an author?
In "Untold Story", Ali speculates what would have happened if Diana if she had survived the car crash in Paris and had instead staged her own death to flee to a small town in America to live a normal life. Lydia is the name that Princess Diana takes on as she lives what is a typical life, working at a dog shelter and spending time with her girlfriends who think that she has fled from a powerful husband. It is American surburbia at its finest that has replaced the role of Kensington Palace.

As the story evolves we get the story from Lydia herself and from her former secretary who is the only person she has trusted with her secret. It is the story of a women so fed up with the difficulties of life in the spotlight that she is willing to give up everything, including her children, to start over. It is a choice that comes at a price, a high price and when a British paparazzi surfaces in this oh-so-normal American backwater (incidentally also called Kensington), it could all have been for nothing.

It is an interesting read - the story itself somehow does not come across as dramatic. It is very well-written but the beautiful literary style is very much at odds with the content. Because as much as I enjoyed reading Ali's well-crafted sentences and stylistically superior prose, I did not enjoy the use of Diana's name. The story could have been told just as well had it been based on a fictional character and I have to admit that I found the book an invasion of privacy. This feeling of partaking of something not quite right ruined the reading experience for me and the insensitivity in using the Diana icon overshadows what could have been a good read.


  1. I have this on my wishlist but like you I feel a bit "is this right?" about it. I wonder if I will feel the same way once I have read it.

  2. It is a strange read... Not sure I can really recommend it. Too weird in a way.

  3. I have this on my shelf and I'm really looking forward to reading it. I love the idea of it and so far, haven't felt that it stepped on any toes. Of course, I haven't read it yet... I do think, though, that it could have been just as easily written about someone entirely fictional - I guess using Diana is an easy way of giving us a lot of associations without actually having to write it.