There are a few things to know before reading my review of Monica Ali's Untold Story. The first- and perhaps most important- is that I am not your run of the mill American when it comes to knowledge of Britain's royal family. At the age of nine I began avidly collecting things about Princess Diana, so if Untold Story wasn't factually correct, I would definitely know it. The other thing to know is that as a child I dreamed that Diana would decide to visit me in the midwest and would fit right in with my very average lifestyle.
The idea that perhaps Princess Diana staged her own death is one I have heard before. Because she died in a car accident and - as far as the general public knows- there was a body, it seems impossible that her death was staged. Ali's book, however, changed a few facts about Diana's death in order for this plot to work. Instead of a car accident taking Diana's life, she instead stages her death as a drowning accident where no body was ever recovered. Now, ten years later she is living in a midwestern town trying to recreate her life. Her hair color is changed and she has undergone plastic surgery. And she is very careful not to get too close to anybody. When a papperazo from her days as a princess turns up in Kensington where she now lives, Lydia as she is now known, must make some careful decisions about her future.
I really liked this book. A lot. Before I started reading I wondered how I would feel about this book, realizing that I would either really like it or really dislike it - that there probably wouldn't be a whole lot of middle ground. Ali's Untold Story reminds me very much of American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld which is a fictional take on Laura Bush's life - and I loved, loved, loved American Wife.
Ali is careful never to call Lydia Princess Diana, even though it is obvious that it is Diana's life this story is based on. My one bone to pick -and it is me being rather critical- is the first sentence on the book's jacket. I rarely read book jackets, already having read enough reviews of them that I seldom need to read yet another brief synopsis. Yet, for some reason I did read this book jacket. And the first sentence is wrong. Within the first sentence it states that Princess Diana died when she was thirty seven years old. So read the sentence again and then I re-calculated Diana's birthday -a fact I know backwards and forwards- with the day she died another fact I know backwards and forwards. I still arrive at Diana dying at the age of 36. (July 1, 1961 - August 31, 1997). Not to be really picky, but it would seem that somewhere along the line someone should have caught that mistake. Especially since this is a book receiving a lot of buzz.
After I got over that, I really did enjoy Untold Story. The part I find the most unrealistic - Diana being able to leave William and Harry, who were truly the loves of her life, is well dealt with by Ali, and this story is so believable. You may want to start looking yourself in your own town for new and unusual faces who resemble the beautiful Princess Diana.
Princess Diana was a woman known the world over, and her death was also mourned the world over. Ali's novel allowed me the chance to look at the "what if" which I much enjoyed.