Untold Story

( 68 )


When Princess Diana died in Paris’s Alma tunnel, she was thirty-seven years old. Had she lived, she would turn fifty on July 1, 2011. Who would the beloved icon be if she were alive today? What would she be doing? And where? One of the most versatile and bold writers of our time, Monica Ali has imagined a different fate for Diana in her spectacular new novel, Untold Story.

Diana’s life and marriage were both fairy tale and nightmare rolled into one. Adored by millions, she ...

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Untold Story

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When Princess Diana died in Paris’s Alma tunnel, she was thirty-seven years old. Had she lived, she would turn fifty on July 1, 2011. Who would the beloved icon be if she were alive today? What would she be doing? And where? One of the most versatile and bold writers of our time, Monica Ali has imagined a different fate for Diana in her spectacular new novel, Untold Story.

Diana’s life and marriage were both fairy tale and nightmare rolled into one. Adored by millions, she suffered rejection, heartbreak, and betrayal. Surrounded by glamour and glitz and the constant attention of the press, she fought to carve a meaningful role for herself in helping the needy and dispossessed. The contradictions and pressures of her situation fueled her increasingly reckless behavior, but her stature and her connection with her public never ceased to grow. If Diana had lived, would she ever have found peace and happiness, or would the curse of fame always have been too great?

Fast forward a decade after the (averted) Paris tragedy, and an Englishwoman named Lydia is living in a small, nondescript town somewhere in the American Midwest. She has a circle of friends: one owns a dress shop; one is a Realtor; another is a frenzied stay-at-home mom. Lydia volunteers at an animal shelter, and swims a lot. Her lover, who adores her, feels she won’t let him know her. Who is she?

Untold Story is about the cost of celebrity, the meaning of identity, and the possibility—or impossibility—of reinventing a life. Ali’s fictional princess is beautiful, intrepid, and resourceful and has established a fragile peace. And then the past threatens to destroy her new life. Ali has created a riveting novel inspired by the cultural icon she calls “a gorgeous bundle of trouble.”

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Editorial Reviews

Curtis Sittenfeld
What if, Ali asks, Diana had survived that accident? What if she had faked her own death and eventually gone to live under an assumed name in America? Such a premise immediately achieves two things. It corrects the heartbreaking error of Diana’s early death, and it creates, at least for American readers, the delicious fantasy that there could be a princess among us.
—The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
“Absorbing… Ali has written a thoughtful book about a serious theme: the insanity of celebrity culture… Exercising the novelist's right to imagine, she has tried to get inside the head of the biggest celebrity of our age. It's a bold move, and it will offend people who have made a quasi-religious idol of the princess. But the artistry of Ali's execution justifies her risky choice of material… While reading this book, you genuinely feel she might still be out there somewhere, living the unobserved life she never had.”—Weekend Australian

“An exciting psychological thriller with several unpredictable twists. Ali takes the testosterone-loaded concept of the stake-out and adds a feminine touch.”—The Age (Australia)

Oprah Magazine
Monica Ali's Untold Story (Scribner) is an unapologetic hybrid of a novel, a literary examination of identity and a page-turning thriller, complete with car chase. While the heroine is named Lydia Snaresbrook, she's clearly a dark-haired, rhinoplastied Princess Diana, who Ali imagines has faked her own death and come to live in a small American town. Life is uneventful until a British paparazzo shows up and recognizes her. At times Ali seems mocking of Dianaiana—Lydia/Diana lives in a town called Kensington, like the palace—but she is also clearly fascinated by her heroine, a woman both mysterious and knowable, privileged and ordinary. Whether Lydia/Diana will outrun that pesky photographer seems beside the point. What's important, in this unusual book, is that she can never escape herself. --( Sara Nelson )
USA Today
What if Princess Diana faked her own death, changed her appearance and name (to Lydia Snaresbrook), and moved to small-town America to start a new life? And what if her cover is about to be blown by a photographer? That's the question Monica Ali asks in her provocative new novel.

The book Untold Story: A Novel
By Monica Ali
Why it's hot: Interest in Diana, which has barely waned since her death in 1997 at age 36, has been stoked again by global coverage of her son William's wedding.
Title: Untold Story: A Novel (Scribner)
Author: Monica Ali
On sale: June 28, 2011

A taste: "Despite the dark hair, despite the surgeon's knife, despite the wrinkles wrought by the years and a permanent tan, she saw a ghost looking back at her that had long been consigned to the past."
On sale: June 28
The author
Quick bio: Ali, 43, emerged as one of Britain's bright young stars when her 2003 debut novel Brick Lane was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. Born in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) to a Bangladeshi father and British mother, Ali moved to England when she was 3. She lives in London with her husband and son, 12, and daughter, 10. Fun fact: Ali was 13 when she watched Diana marry Prince Charles on TV. "It seemed like a fairy tale."
Why she is a Diana fan: "She was impossible to ignore. I thought she was a glorious bundle of trouble — she stuck two fingers up at the Establishment. She refused to go quietly. She went her own way, and I liked the way she did that. I started researching an idea for a short story: What if Diana hadn't died, what would she have been like in her 40s? And the more I read about her, the more I admired her."
The difference between Diana and Lydia: "Diana was certainly the inspiration, but I had to invent an imaginary princess." The reaction in England, whereUntold Storywas published in March: "Some people have loved it." Others have said, "Diana is too trashy and lowbrow a subject for a writer like me, which I find extraordinary."
Who might play Lydia in the movie: Ali just sold rights to Cloud Eight Films. It's not cast yet, but she likes Cate Blanchett. On new bride Kate Middleton: "I'm wishing her well. She seems very charming and down-to-earth." Up next: She's researching a new novel, writing a short story and has an idea for a film script.
Her summer reading: A "mountain" of books for prizes she is judging, plus, for fun, A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. And she might reread War and Peace, "a nice thing to do under a tree."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451635508
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 6/5/2012
  • Pages: 259
  • Sales rank: 1,252,040
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 7.84 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Monica Ali

Monica Ali has been named by Granta as one of the twenty best young British novelists. She is the author of In the Kitchen, Alentejo Blue, and Brick Lane, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She lives in London with her husband and two children.


Before her first book was even released, Monica Ali was the talk of the town. On the basis of only a few chapters, she was offered a generous publishing contract. Then, while her novel was still in manuscript form, she was named to Granta's once-a-decade list of Best Young British Novelists. With all the advance hype, readers and reviewers were skeptical. Could a debut novel really be worth all this hubbub? In 2003, the question was laid to rest, when Brick Lane was published to rapturous acclaim and almost instant bestsellerdom.

The daughter of English and Bangladeshi parents, Ali came to England when she was three years old. She studied at Oxford, graduating with honors in 1989, and worked in publishing and design before settling down to raise a family. After her children were born, she wrote a few short stories -- more to sharpen her skills than to satisfy any real creative impulse. In truth, she found the format of short fiction a bit constraining and longed for something more challenging. Finally, she summoned the courage to attempt a novel. A few chapters in, she succumbed to the urge for constructive feedback and showed what she had written to a friend in publishing. Within a week, she was offered a two-book deal.

Focused on a young Muslim housewife living in a small, almost invisible Bangladeshi community in London, Brick Lane offers a bird's-eye view of the immigrant experience in all its cross-cultural confusion. London's Observer had this to say: "Brick Lane has everything: richly complex characters, a gripping story and an exploration of a community that is so quintessentially British that it has given us our national dish, but of which most of us are entirely ignorant." And the New York Times praised Ali's eloquent, restrained style: "[T]he language of Brick Lane seems both deliberately unflamboyant and metaphorically precise."

In 2006, Ali delivered her long-awaited sophomore effort, the melancholy mood piece Alentejo Blue. A work of episodic fiction midway between a novel and a series of linked stories, the book was well reviewed, although it never achieved the acclaim of Brick Lane. Generally viewed as one of our best contemporary writers, Ali continues to produce fiction in both its long and short forms.

Good To Know

In our interview, Ali shared some fascinating facts about herself:

"I started writing short stories when my eldest child was about a year old. I'd go onto the Internet late at night and swap ‘crits' with other aspiring writers."

"I started writing Brick Lane when my children were two years and five months old. We were on holiday in the north of England when I was overtaken by a compulsion to start writing. My husband was kind enough to take the children outside while I drew the curtains against the sun and sat there in my pajamas with a pen and paper."

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 20, 1967
    2. Place of Birth:
      Dhaka, Bangladesh
    1. Education:
      B.A. with Honors, Oxford, 1989

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Some stories are never meant to be told. Some can only be told as fairy tales.
Once upon a time three girlfriends threw a little party for a fourth who had yet to arrive by the time the first bottle of Pinot Grigio had been downed. Walk with me now across the backyard of the neat suburban house, in this street of widely spaced heartlands, past the kid’s bike and baseball bat staged just so on the satin green lawn, up to the sweet glow of the kitchen window, and take a look inside. Three women, one dark, one blonde, the third a redhead—all in their prime, those tenuous years when middle age is held carefully at bay. There they are, sitting at the table, innocent of their unreality, oblivious to the story, naively breathing in and out.
“Where is Lydia?” says Amber, the blonde. She is a neat little package. Delicate features, Peter Pan collar dress, French tip manicure. “Where the heck can she be?”
“We holding off on the sandwiches, right?” says Suzie, the dark-haired friend. She didn’t have time to get changed before she came out. There is a splash of Bolognese sauce on her T-shirt. She made it in a hurry and left it for the kids and babysitter to eat. “These reduced-calorie Ruffles? Forget it, not going there.” She pushes the bowl of chips away.
“Should I call her again?” says Amber. “I left three messages already.” She closed up her clothing store an hour early to be sure to get everything ready on time.
The redhead, Tevis, takes a small phallus-shaped crystal out of her pocket and sets it on the table. She says, “I had a premonition this morning.”
“You see a doctor about that?” Suzie, in her favorite khaki pants and stained T-shirt, sits like a man, right ankle on left knee. She gives Amber a wink.
“You guys can mock all you want,” says Tevis. She has come straight from work. In her pantsuit, with her hair in a tight bun, pursing her lips, she looks close to prim—the opposite of how she would want to be seen.
“We’re not mocking,” says Amber. “Was it about Lydia?”
“Not specifically,” says Tevis in a very Tevis way. She cups her hands above the stone.
“You carry that around with you?” says Suzie. Her hair is aubergine dark, a hint of purple, and has that freshly colored shine. She plucks a carrot out of the refrigerator and peels it directly onto the table that has been laid with the pretty crockery, hand-painted red and pink roses, fine bone china cups and saucers with handles so small they make you crook your little finger, just like a real English high tea. “Don’t worry, I’m clearing this up.”
“You better,” says Amber, but she reaches across and scoops up the peelings herself. If Lydia walks in that second everything has to look right. She feels guilty about packing Serena and Tyler off to friends’ houses when they’d wanted to stay and say happy birthday to Lydia. Wouldn’t Lydia have preferred to see the children rather than have everything arranged just so? Amber tucks her hair behind her ears and pulls a loose thread from her sleeve. “Please say it wasn’t about her.”
“Jeez Louise,” says Suzie. “She’ll be working late. You know how she loves those dogs.”
“Why isn’t she answering her phone?” says Amber.
“I didn’t wrap her present. Think she’ll mind?” Suzie snaps off the end of the carrot with her front teeth. The teeth are strong and white but irregular; they strike an attitude.
“I’m not trying to worry anyone,” says Tevis. She puts the crystal back in the pocket of her tailored jacket. She is a Realtor and has to look smart. It’s not who she is. It’s what she does. As she herself has pointed out many times. But this is a town full of skeptics, people who buy into all that bricks-and-mortar-and-white-goods fandango instead of having their chakras cleansed.
“Seriously,” says Suzie, “you’re not.” She loves Tevis. Tevis has no kids so you talked about other stuff. Suzie has four kids and once you’d talked about those and then talked about the other moms’ kids, it was time to head home and pack sports gear for the following day. Tevis being childless meant you felt a bit sorry for her, and a bit jealous. Probably the same way she felt about you. She could be dreamy, or she could be intense, or some strange combination of the two. And she was fun to tease.
“Remember what happened last time?” says Tevis.
“Last time what? You had a premonition? Is it about Lydia or not?” Amber, she is pretty sure, knows Lydia better than the others do. She got friendly with her first, nearly three years ago now.
“I don’t know,” says Tevis. “It’s just a bad feeling. I had it this morning, right after I got out of the shower.”
“I had a bad feeling in the shower this morning,” says Suzie. “I felt like I was going to eat a whole box of Pop-Tarts for breakfast.”
“How late is she anyway? God, an hour and a half.” Amber looks wistfully at the silver cake forks fanned out near the center of the table. They were nearly black when she found them in the antiques store over on Fairfax, but have cleaned up beautifully.
“And guess what,” said Suzie. “I did. The whole freakin’ box.”
Tevis takes off her jacket. “The air always gets like this before a thunderstorm.”
“What?” says Suzie. “It’s a beautiful evening. You’re not in Chicago anymore.”
“I’m just saying,” says Tevis. She fixes Suzie a stare.
“Come on, Tevis, don’t try to creep us out.” The cucumber sandwiches are beginning to curl at the edges. It is kind of dumb, Amber knows it, to have English high tea at seven in the evening. More like eight thirty now.
“Yeah, let’s just hear it, girl, the last time you had a premonition . . .” Suzie begins at her usual rat-a-tat pace, but suddenly tails off.
“So you do remember,” says Tevis. She turns to Amber. “Please try not to be alarmed. But last time I had a premonition was the day Jolinda’s little boy ran out in the street and got hit by the school bus.”
“And you saw that? You saw that ahead of time?”
Tevis hesitates a moment, then scrupulously shakes her head. “No. It was more like a general premonition.”
“And that was—what?—two years ago? How many you had since then?” Amber, her anxiety rising, glances at the Dundee cake, enthroned on a glass stand as the table’s centerpiece. It is mud brown and weighs a ton. Lydia mentioned it one time, a childhood favorite, and Amber found a recipe on the Internet.
“None,” says Tevis, “until today.”
“You never get a bad feeling in the mornings?” says Suzie. “Man, I get them, like, every day.”
Amber gets up and starts washing the three dirty wineglasses. She has to do something and it’s all she can think of except, of course, calling Lydia again. But when Lydia strides through the door, that swing in her hips, that giggle in her voice, Amber doesn’t want to feel too foolish. “Damn it, I’m calling again,” she says, drying her hands.
“There’s no reason why it should be to do with Lydia,” says Tevis, but the more she says it, the more certain she feels that it is. Only a couple of days ago, Lydia came over and asked for the tarot cards, something she had always refused before. Tevis laid the cards out on the mermaid mosaic table but then Rufus wagged his tail and knocked two cards to the floor. Lydia picked them up and said, “Let’s not do this,” and shuffled all the cards back into the deck. Tevis explained that it wouldn’t matter, that to deal the cards again would not diminish their power. “I know,” Lydia said, “but I’ve changed my mind. Rufus changed it for me. He’s very wise, you know.” She laughed, and though her laugh contained, as usual, a peal of silver bells, it also struck another note. Lydia was intuitive, she knew things, she sensed them, and she had backed away from the cards.
“Absolutely no reason,” Tevis repeats, and Suzie says, “It’s probably nothing at all,” which sounds like words of comfort and makes the three of them uneasy that such comfort should be required.
Amber tosses her cell phone onto a plate. Lydia’s phone has gone to voice mail again and what’s the point in leaving yet another message? “Maybe she took Rufus on a long walk, lost track of time, forgot to take her phone.” She knows how lame it sounds.
“She could’ve got the days mixed,” says Suzie, without conviction.
“Suzie, it’s her birthday. How could she get the days mixed? Anyway she called this morning and said see you at seven. There’s no mix-up, she’s just . . . late.” Lydia had sounded distracted, it was true. But, thinks Amber, she has frequently seemed distracted lately.
“What the . . .” says Suzie.
“I told you,” says Tevis. “Hail.”
“What the . . .” says Suzie again, and the rest of her sentence is lost in the din.
“Come on,” shouts Amber, racing for the front door. “If she arrives right now we’ll never hear the bell.”
They stand outside on the front deck and watch the hail drum off Mrs. Gillolt’s roof, snare sideways off the hood of Amber’s Highlander, rattle in and out of the aluminum bucket by the garage. The sky has turned an inglorious dirty purple, and the hail falls with utter abandon, bouncing, colliding, rolling, compelling in its unseemliness. It falls and it falls. The hail is not large, only dense, pouring down like white rice from the torn seam above. “Oh my God,” screams Amber. “Look at it,” Suzie screams back. Tevis walks down the steps and plants herself on the lawn, arms held wide, head tilted back to the sky. “Is she saying a prayer?” yells Suzie, and Amber, despite the tension, or because of it, starts to laugh.
She is laughing still when a car pulls off the road; the headlights seem to sweep the hail, lift it in a thick white cloud above the black asphalt driveway, and spray it toward the house. Tevis lets her arms drop and runs toward the car, her Realtor’s cream silk blouse sticking to her skinny back. The others run down too. It must be Lydia, although the car is nothing but a dark shape behind the lights.
When Esther climbs out of the front seat, clutching a present to her chest, they embrace her in an awkward circle of compensation that does little to conceal their disappointment.
Back in the kitchen, Amber sets another place at the table. Esther brushes hail from her shoulders, unpins her bun, and shakes a few hailstones out of her long gray hair. “Forgot I was coming, didn’t you?” she says, her tone somewhere between sage and mischievous.
“No!” says Amber. “Well, yes.”
“That’s what happens to women,” says Esther. “We reach an age where we get forgotten about.” She doesn’t sound remotely aggrieved.
Amber, through her cloud of embarrassment and anxiety, experiences a pang for what lies ahead, fears, in fact, that it has already begun, at her age, a divorcée the rest of her life. She gathers herself to the moment. “The thing is, we’ve all been a bit worried about Lydia. Has she been working late? She’s not answering her phone.”
“Lydia took the day off,” says Esther. “You mean she’s not been here?”
Nobody answers, as Esther looks from one to the next.
“We should drive over to the house,” says Suzie.
“Wait until the hail stops,” says Tevis.
“We can’t just sit here,” says Amber.
They sit and look at each other, waiting for someone to take charge.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 68 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 68 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 25, 2011

    A similar plot was already written years ago

    Maybe 2 or 3 years after Diana's death a similar book was written where Diana survives the crash and hides out having a secret life. The story was just as dumb then as this one is now.

    24 out of 43 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2011

    Great Book- I highly recommend it.

    When I read "Untold Story", I thought that it was a good book. I like the idea of a mystery and suspence novel. I didn't like that fact that she never went back to the palace. I thought that it would have made a better ending. This review is my opinion alone. I suggest that anyone who wants to read it, do it. If not, then that is your decision.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer



    3 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 14, 2011

    Waste of Money

    Don't even think about buying this. Totally boring. Sorry I wasted my money.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 9, 2011

    Awful awful book

    I read hundreds of books a year and not all were grear. This book, however, is almost impossible to read. The author uses such odd syntax that it is just hard to follow. I have read half so far and I can't bring myself to read the rest. I wish I had read a sample before preordering. I am so disappointed. I thought this was about Princess Diana. It is not. It is apparently about a random princess who drowned. Do yourself a favor and do not buy this book. I wish I could get my money back.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 8, 2011

    Total waste of money

    Dreadful! Unrealistic setting and characters. Has Ali even been to the USA? So many errors. Surprised this was even accepted for publication.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 15, 2011


    Great idea...the concept was there but this story was just underwhelming...borderline boring to me and could have been so good

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2013

    I can't believe Monica Ali wrote this.

    I can't believe Monica Ali wrote this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2011

    tarnished the fairy tale finish

    i was intrigued by the idea of "what if she lived?", as a mother i cannot agree with what she did in order to gain anonimity. i do not believe Diana could ever be so cruel and selfish to her boys.

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  • Posted August 26, 2011

    Boring and slow

    This book was very slow. I couldn't get more than half way through before giving up. Too many other good things our there to read that are much more engaging.

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  • Posted August 13, 2011

    This actually got published?

    I have read every Diana book on the market so i had to read this - SO SORRY i did incredibly far fetched difficult to get through

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  • Posted August 12, 2011

    Oh Brother!!!

    I've always been a Diana fan & decided to read this book just for the heck of it. The story line is far fetched & I kept telling myself that it's only fiction. If Diana was still alive, she NEVER EVER would've left her boys no matter what. They were the love of her life. Didn't want to finish this book, but went back a few times just to be done with it. To me the writing was repetitive & full of fluff. Sorry that I wasted my time & money.

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  • Posted August 12, 2011


    I just can't bring myself to finish this book. It's poorly executed. I wish I believed the reviews I had read before my purchase.

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  • Posted August 7, 2011

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2011

    Didnt like

    This book was okay in the begining but the more you got into the story the worse it got.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2011


    I find this book extremely hard to get through i literally fall asleep reading it. The plot is not very convincing at all either.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2011


    I liked this book. For Diana lovers, u will love that there is more to her story. Fir everyone else, just a quick, entertaining read.

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  • Posted July 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    So disappointing.

    I just found the book very unrealistic and boring. I skimmed through the last few chapters to finish quickly.

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  • Posted July 21, 2011

    Loved this book!

    Monica Ali takes a critical look at Princess Diana's complex personal history and unmatched media appeal to present a story about the unexpected survival of a very strong but troubled woman. Diana's life had turned into a perfect storm of psychological longing, isolation, media hype and constant scrutiny that could not be salvaged - not for all the money in the world. One of the most problematic issues standing as an impenetrable barrier to any possible theories of how Diana might have faked her own death would be how she could possibly leave her sons. This question is satisfied both logically and emotionally. In my opinion the author did a very good job of mixing the elements that make a good read and for me that includes a solid writing ability. There are a few passages that I had to sort out, but American English is not quite the same as the Queen's. Sometimes it is nice to have to stretch one's brain just a bit to get the full meaning. This story is one of courage that can convince many of us that no matter how full or empty we think ourselves to be, there is more, much more that we can learn, feel and experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2011

    Wouldn't buy...

    I finished this book because I paid for it but I wouldn't suggest this to others. I had to really set my mind to this because it jumped all over the place and didn't provide enough insight to all of the characters. Personally I didn't like the ending either. My recommendation: DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME OR MONEY on it.

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