Monica Ali’s latest novel which pubbed June 28, 2011, just before what would have been Diana Spencer’s 50th birthday – July 1, 2011 – had “The People’s Princess” lived. In case the cover wasn’t enough of a clue, that date detail matters because Untold Story imagines that Diana left her adoring public not via decorated casket, but was rowed away by a faithful staffer – an Oxford-degreed Foreign Officer turned history professor who was Diana’s Private Secretary! – to restart her new life as an American commoner. “Some stories are never meant to be told. Some can only be told as fairy tales,” opens this Story. That might have been ’nuff said right then and there … but we go on and on and on …
Train-wreck style, Ali resurrects a fragile Diana who undergoes the knife to change her renowned visage just enough, tones down her posh accent, wanders the States carrying the birth certificate of a dead British-born American, has a few meaningless peripatetic flings, and eventually settles somewhere in Middle America in a small town called – wait for it …! – Kensington (egads!).
She’s bought a small house (with a pool), works at an animal shelter, and has made a few close (as possible) friends, although she spends most of her time with a rescue canine named Rufus. She’s more or less gotten over her cutting and starving (she even has an opportunity to share her recovered wisdom with a friend’s troubled adolescent). She longs for her heir-and-a-spare, and keeps a box of clippings about them hidden in the back of her closet. She also has a kind, devoted lover with whom she can share little more than a bed. And then her image-stealing nemesis happens to randomly wander into Kensington, and recognizes her iconic eyes. What’s a distraught ex-royal to do? To run or not to run, that is again the question …
Ali’s debut, the unforgettable Brick Lane (shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize, adapted to celluloid in 2007), was one of those literary landscape-changing titles about the Bangladeshi British community. Not surprisingly, the novel garnered controversy for various unflattering portrayals of the locals, but in this case, even bad press was good press and Ali hit bestselling lists, and collected nominations, prizes, and other hefty accolades.
Loyal devotion to Brick Lane keeps me adding every Ali title to my shelves. Alas, I have yet to finish her Portuguese-set short story collection Alentejo Blue, or her deadly In the Kitchen. Sticking this Story into my ears is most likely what got me to the end: kudos indeed for narrators Emma Fielding (who assumes the royal voice) and Nicholas Farrell (who alternates between the elegant, saving secretary and the desperate, lifelong photo-snatcher) as they go far in making the implausible at least finishable.