Book Review: Untold Story – Monica Ali

Title: Untold Story
Author: Monica Ali
ISBN: 9781451635485
Pages: 272
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

In this “what if” novel, Ali tackles the question of Princess Diana of Wales, and specifically, what would have happened if she had faked her death? It’s 10 years later, and “Lydia” has settled comfortably into her new life. She has friends and is a volunteer at the local animal shelter, and though she has some regrets, such as leaving her boys behind, she enjoys her quiet life in the American Midwest. But when a royal photographer happens to be in her small town, Lydia’s perfect life could come crashing down around her all over again.

Review:

When I first heard about the subject of Monica Ali’s novel Untold Story, I didn’t know what to think. After all, the “ripped from the headlines” subject matter seems out of character for her literary writing style. But I was very curious about this book, so I decided to read it, just to see what Ali’s imagination had to say about the princess.

Untold Story is a quiet novel. Most of the book is about Lydia’s rather mundane life, spending time with her friends, pondering her past and her painful memories. It is intensely character driven. Lydia isn’t the most likeable character – she can be very selfish and almost manic at times – but she has an aura of pain and vulnerability around her that is easy to sympathize with. It’s also clear how much she has grown as a person over the years. While at one point in her life, she needed the constant attention of the press, now she is content with her quiet life working with animals.

The drama of the book – the possibility that Lydia’s secret could be exposed to the world – isn’t actually all that dramatic. And that’s because this book really isn’t about the drama. Instead, it’s about the solace Lydia finds in the monotony of her everyday life. Monica Ali’s writing is gorgeous from beginning to end. The grace of her prose really illuminates the beauty in a quiet, well-lived life, especially for someone like Lydia who has had the misfortune to live the opposite.

I went into Untold Story expecting to dislike it, so I was really surprised that I really did enjoy it. It’s a beautiful piece of literary fiction, though I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to all readers. It’s easy to read; it can be slow at times, but that’s the point of the novel. The pace speeds up as the different storylines culminate, and as a result it would be easy to read this book in one or two sittings. If you’re looking for a literary read with a little ripped-from-the-headlines guilty pleasure thrown in, this is the perfect novel to pick up.

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Comments

  1. This is a book I would like to read – Diana was an iconic figure and it is interesting to explore the What if? possibilities. Glad to hear you liked it!

  2. This is a book I would like to read – Diana was an iconic figure and it is interesting to explore the What if? possibilities. Glad to hear you liked it!

  3. I wouldn’t expect to like this either, so now that I know it is not terrible I am curious.

  4. I wouldn’t expect to like this either, so now that I know it is not terrible I am curious.

  5. I have to admit the the premise of this book intrigues the heck out of me. Although I haven’t thought much about reading it, and yours is the first review I have seen of this book, I do think it would make for a really interesting reading experience. I think I am going to have to add this one to the list, because I am just too curious to pass it up!

  6. I have to admit the the premise of this book intrigues the heck out of me. Although I haven’t thought much about reading it, and yours is the first review I have seen of this book, I do think it would make for a really interesting reading experience. I think I am going to have to add this one to the list, because I am just too curious to pass it up!

  7. I too am surprised that Ali chose this subject matter. But there are two major flaws that I don’t think I could overlook even if the book is better than expected. First, I would have a very hard time suspending my disbelief that there is any place in America where she could be incognito. Unless she has had plastic surgery that you don’t mention. Even then, the voice is as iconic as the face. And Second, she would NEVER leave her children behind. A person who loves her children that much would never put them through that grief let alone be able to not share in their lives. Sorry if I seem a little hot under the collar. I am almost tempted to read it to see if it would annoy me as much as the premise does.

  8. I too am surprised that Ali chose this subject matter. But there are two major flaws that I don’t think I could overlook even if the book is better than expected. First, I would have a very hard time suspending my disbelief that there is any place in America where she could be incognito. Unless she has had plastic surgery that you don’t mention. Even then, the voice is as iconic as the face. And Second, she would NEVER leave her children behind. A person who loves her children that much would never put them through that grief let alone be able to not share in their lives. Sorry if I seem a little hot under the collar. I am almost tempted to read it to see if it would annoy me as much as the premise does.

  9. Thomas – The main character does have extensive plastic surgery. It is discussed in the book.

  10. Thomas – The main character does have extensive plastic surgery. It is discussed in the book.

  11. I don’t find the premise of this book very appealing but the fact that you like it has made me consider it.

  12. I don’t find the premise of this book very appealing but the fact that you like it has made me consider it.

  13. How odd – the book I review tomorrow is related to Princess Di as well, An Accident in August. It was also a book I wasn’t expecting to enjoy but did.

    However, it’s told from the perspective of the woman in the Fiat Uno who was supposedly involved in the accident. Really tense and interesting.

    This, I agree with Thomas, may take a bit too much for me to buy.

  14. How odd – the book I review tomorrow is related to Princess Di as well, An Accident in August. It was also a book I wasn’t expecting to enjoy but did.

    However, it’s told from the perspective of the woman in the Fiat Uno who was supposedly involved in the accident. Really tense and interesting.

    This, I agree with Thomas, may take a bit too much for me to buy.

  15. I think the concept of this book is so unusual. I need to read it.

  16. I think the concept of this book is so unusual. I need to read it.

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  19. Oh goodness — I’ve been eager to read this one since getting a glimpse of the cover a while ago! As the daughter of a Princess Di devotee, I’ll be reading this one and sharing it with my mom, too.

  20. Oh goodness — I’ve been eager to read this one since getting a glimpse of the cover a while ago! As the daughter of a Princess Di devotee, I’ll be reading this one and sharing it with my mom, too.

  21. This book sounds right up my alley. Ever since the royal wedding, I have been gobbling up all sorts of royal family related stuff. And while it carries some of the ripped from the headlines feel, it also sounds incredibly unique. I find the premise to be a bit interesting and it sounds like the writing is really great which is always a plus.

  22. This book sounds right up my alley. Ever since the royal wedding, I have been gobbling up all sorts of royal family related stuff. And while it carries some of the ripped from the headlines feel, it also sounds incredibly unique. I find the premise to be a bit interesting and it sounds like the writing is really great which is always a plus.

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