two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
By: 
Monica Ali
user_rating: 
0

A-UntoldStoryBorn in Bangladesh and now living in London, Monica Ali's 2004 debut novel, Brick Lane, was nominated for the Booker Prize in the United Kingdom. Recently Reviewed: In the Kitchen (2.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2009).

The Story: In Untold Story, Diana, Princess of Wales, survives the car accident that occurred in Paris in late August 1997. Still hounded endlessly by paparazzi, Diana decides to fake her own death by staging her drowning in Brazil. After a few minor adjustments--plastic surgery, colored contact lenses--Diana reinvents herself as Lydia and settles in the rural United States, where she falls in love with a local man. The decade-long idyll, however, is rudely interrupted by an intrepid paparazzo who is convinced Lydia is actually Princess Diana. His investigation threatens to undermine everything Diana has earned.
Scribner. 272 pages. $25. ISBN: 9781451635485

The Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Untold Story taps into that prurient curiosity, making a fully realized character of this princess while asking us to consider our own implication in Diana's fame and calamity. ... This remarkable transformation allows Ali to ponder the essence of what makes a person." Martha McPhee

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Dreams really do come true in Monica Ali's entertaining Untold Story, a romance novel in all but name. ... Norman Rockwell couldn't paint a more affectionate portrait of small-town America." Deirdre Donahue

Globe and Mail (Canada) 3 of 5 Stars
"The story, while light, possesses some valuable insights into the nature of contemporary celebrity and the tenacious grip of female fantasy. ... . [Ali] finds it difficult to reconcile the notion of royalty with the notion of marginalized outsider ... her depiction of Lydia is, for the most part, bland." Donna Bailey Nurse

Guardian (UK) 2 of 5 Stars
"[The novel] demonstrates psychological subtlety that the potboiler it resembles would never possess ... propelling what is essentially a bewildering but patchily enjoyable read. ... Unremittingly silly yet containing real pace, this is an ill-advised, debatably insensitive--indeed, almost unworkable--project, skillfully executed." Joana Briscoe

NY Times Book Review 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Clearly, Ali is capable of writing a novel about anything, including Diana. But somehow Untold Story has come out all wrong. ... In certain sections, Ali offers glimpses of the better, richer novel this could have been." Curtis Sittenfeld

New York Times 1 of 5 Stars
" In the end Ms. Ali manages to orchestrate a dramatic conclusion that's nifty, if pretty predictable. But it's a conclusion, it must be said, that's a lot more satisfying than much of the rest of this implausible and preposterously gimmicky novel." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Ali, who universally wowed critics with her first two novels, instead caused a massive critical divide with Untold Story. Some praised Ali's characterization of Diana/Lydia, while others thought her portrayal is "bland" at best. The very concept of the novel itself seemed to be the ultimate source of the critical divide, however. Some critics felt that exploring Diana's life is an interesting conceit; others were less positive, arguing that Ali's portrayal of Diana is tacky and a clear attempt to capitalize on headlines surrounding the royal family. In the end, Ali is grafting literary pretensions to a "what if ... " potboiler and doesn't succeed in rising above the genre. Untold Story is for the royal watchers not offended by the premise.