Around the time of the Royal Wedding I read about a book coming out concerning Princess Diana, a work of fiction obviously released to cash in on the increased interest surrounding the marriage of her eldest son. The comment I saw suggested that it was a cynical trick to release such a novel at this time, But having read Untold Story by Monica Ali, I’m not sure that such criticism is fair. To me it seemed to be far more about identity and the choices we all make whether trying to hide one of the biggest secrets in the world, or simply coping with the challenges of life.
A lot has been made about how ‘Lydia’ in this book is in fact Diana, who having narrowly avoided death in Paris fakes her death later in the same year. It switches between her hideaway in Kensington, USA, and the diary of the man who has helped her to disappear, a man who knows that his own time and capacity to help is short. The thriller element is present, especially towards the end, when it looks like Lydia’s cover is about to be blown, and at that point I wondered how on earth it would end. This book is good, however, on the inner feelings of its main protagonists. We get a picture of a woman with enormous personal magnetism, but who found relationships impossible to manage. She looks back on the pressure she was under, and its effects on her sons. It questions the need for separation, when there are no answers, and finding the best way to cope. Lawrence, the ex security organiser who not only masterminds the disappearance but who mentors the changes necessary that follow it, reflects on both his own life but all the pressures that forced various actions.
This is a considered book, a book for all those who have ever wondered about what it would feel like to be so famous that nothing is hidden. It is about survival when everything has to start again. It is about the desperation of choosing actions that may hurt others but which may be unavoidable. It is about what makes us what we are.
I must admit that I almost gave up on this book when the first chapter seemed to revolve around life in a small American town. I cannot say that I enjoyed every chapter; sometimes it seemed unduly depressing. I am glad I persevered though as it was an interesting book, not at all jumping on the bandwagon, because there are many themes and points of interest here that go way beyond Diana – worship. I think it is a fascinating book, very different from my impressions of Ali’s work, and worth reading.