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This review is from: Untold Story (Paperback)
The year is 2007 and Diana, Princess of Wales, has officially been dead for 10 years. But the main character, also a princess on a quest for the simple life, did not die in the wreckage of a car in the Alma Tunnel. Instead, having survived a near-fatal car accident in Paris and fearful of an establishment attempt to silence her forever, she staged her own disappearance during one of her early morning swims and was declared missing, presumed dead: drowned or eaten by sharks. Her lily-strewn coffin contained only an outfit selected by her sons. Spirited away to Brazil by her complicit private secretary, her blonde hair is dyed darker, she works on altering her cut-glass accent, acquires brown lenses and undergoes plastic surgery. When the story opens, she is using the name Lydia Snaresbrook, having stolen the identity of a child who died 5 days after birth, and is working as a volunteer at a local animal sanctuary.
But even those who reinvent themselves ultimately never leave their real selves very far behind. Lydia's letters to her private secretary in the first year after her disappearance reveal that her insecurities and her search for a quiet conscience remain unchanged from when she was one of the world's most celebrated women. She acquires the prosaic existence she craved as a princess, only to discover that it means, among other things, making ends meet, changing your own light bulbs and ultimately being responsible for yourself. It does not cure her bulimia, nor diminish her overwhelming need for constantly demonstrated affection from friends and lovers that so frequently precipitated the abrupt termination of friendships; the journey in search of meaning continues, as rudderless and devoid of a compass as the one from which she so dramatically disembarked.
The plot hangs on a highly unlikely coincidence, that a familiar paparazzo on holiday in the Midwestern booney town of Kensington - (yes, really) - she now calls home, bumps into her and recognises both the woman herself and his opportunity for the scoop of a lifetime. This shift towards the implausible is the undoing of the novel and thereafter, for me at least, it unravels spectacularly. The Lydia character and her nemesis, Grabowski, leak any authenticity Ali has previously imbued them with. Grabowski's fiddling with his rosary beads becomes a rather tedious shorthand for his conflicted conscience (as if), and Lydia seems as exercised by his pursuit of her as she might be by the loss of an earring. Or perhaps the reader is meant to infer her inner turmoil from her incessant swimming, it's difficult to say. Their final confrontation in Lydia's bedroom is about as exciting as a cup of lukewarm tea. Further improbable coincides nudge the novel towards an ambiguous and unsatisfactory ending. Not without merit but a great disappointment after Brick Lane.