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Untold Story: A Novel Hardcover – June 28, 2011

2.7 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.”

Amazon Exclusive: Joanne Harris Reviews Untold Story

Joanne Harris is the author of Blueeyed Boy, The Lollipop Shoes and Chocolat.

In Untold Story, Monica Ali has managed to do what the tabloids never did. She made me care about Diana. More than that, she made me admire the woman she has created out of the myth. This is a terrific, clever, multi-layered and subtle book (and let’s not forget - hugely entertaining!), which deserves more acclaim than it has received so far.

Untold Story is a novel that can be read on many levels. At first glance, it’s a thriller that taps into a number of female fantasies; reinvention, romance, adventure and the dark fairytale that was Diana, Princess of Wales – a story that nearly all of us followed guiltily, in the tabloids, as its subject hurtled inevitably towards self- destruction. Looking beneath the surface, however, it becomes clear that Untold Story is much more than just a nicely-written piece of parallel tabloidery. It is a commentary on the nature of identity, of how we are judged, not by what we actually do, but by what we are perceived to be in a world where artifice rules and where truth matters less than story. It is about what it’s like to be a troublesome, spirited woman in a world where women are meant to conform. It’s about the choices a woman must make when trying to take control of her life. It’s about letting go of the labels that others try to stick onto us. It’s about fighting expectations – a thing that the author herself has done, in her quiet way, ever since Brick Lane – in the face of a vicious tabloid machine. It is a wonderful piece of subversion disguised as mere escapism, and I hope it sells millions.


"Monica Ali has always been a brilliant and provocative writer, but Untold Story is not only a gripping read but a compassionate portrait of a woman in turmoil--her finest novel yet."--Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

“Haunting and intensely readable, this is something between a thriller and a ghost story.” —Lady Antonia Fraser

“A terrific, clever, multi-layered and subtle book (and let’s not forget - hugely entertaining!).”—Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and Blueeyedboy

“It is always said that Princess Diana was hunted and haunted, that her story contained the seeds of a contemporary myth. It was obvious that only the imagination of a first-rate novelist could master that material and make it fully and unforgettably alive. We now have the book we have been waiting for in Monica Ali's Untold Story. It is a beautiful, gripping accomplishment, a treat for the heart and the head, and will be a joy to readers who believe in the possibility that a book can transform your basic sense of life.”Andrew O'Hagan, Booker-shortlisted author of Our Fathers, Be Near Me and The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog

“Ali tells her story with unobtrusive, restrained prose... We’ve long since disappeared into the fiction. Lydia has become her own character, Diana a ghost: naive and vulnerable, self-centered, familiar to us in her self-destruction and her dark fairy-tale life but now entirely real and sympathetic. This remarkable transformation allows Ali to ponder the essence of what makes a person: in this case the sheer tenacity of a clever fighter, both silly and bold –and clearly the author’s impetus for taking on, with astounding confidence, the woman who captivated the entrie world.”San Francisco Chronicle

“An unapologetic hybrid of a novel, a literary examination of identity and a page-turning thriller, complete with car chase.”O, the Oprah magazine

“Ms. Ali builds tension as slickly as any thriller screenwriter: we find ourselves avidly rooting for Lydia to elude her stalker and somehow to hold on to the normal life she has made for herself.”—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

“A dazzling feat... All the pistons are firing.”Washington Post

“Norman Rockwell couldn’t paint a more affectionate portrait of small-town America.”USA Today

“A masterpiece of suspense… This is a startlingly intelligent, perceptive and entertaining piece of fiction. It's quite brilliant.”—Daily Mirror (UK)

“Thoughtful, compassionate… A suspenseful and gripping read.”—Financial Times

“Ali's third-person princess is a very convincing and sympathetic figure… Extremely skillfully done.”—Observer (UK)

Builds to a thrilling and rewarding finish… Daring and engrossing.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Irresistible...Lydia’s unsent letters...are delightful, containing the novel’s emotional core.”New York Times Book Review

“Astonishing… Tightly structured and lyrically told.”People (four stars)

“Brilliant... Riveting to the end.”Buffalo News

“A great beach read... [Ali] is a gifted author.”—ABC News

“Rich... heart-felt writing.”Miami Herald

“A revelation... A compassionate portrait of the flawed and magnificent woman.”Globe and Mail

“Ali, a gorgeous stylist, has a wicked good time describing Grabowski in all his rumpled, greasy glory... beautifully written and cleverly imagined.”Cleveland Plain Dealer

Builds to a thrilling and rewarding finish… Daring and engrossing.”—Booklist (starred review)

“A sympathetic...insightful portrait of a woman held captive by the demons from her past.”Jerusalem Post

“A masterpiece of suspense… This is a startlingly intelligent, perceptive and entertaining piece of fiction. It's quite brilliant.”—Daily Mirror (UK)

“Ali packs so much into the book, as she builds a portrait of the world's most famous woman at breaking point, introducing elements of doubt through her paranoia, her emotional state and her erratic behavior prior to her death…. Ali builds the tension masterfully… A compelling and intriguing look at celebrity and the media through a fascinating and complex character.”—Sunday Telegraph (Australia)

Untold Story is a superior thriller.”—The Daily Telegraph (UK)

“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)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (June 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451635486
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451635485
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,336,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In Untold Story, Monica Ali imagines a world where Princess Diana lived. When I started the novel, all I knew were the basics. What I soon discovered, however, is even more interesting. The details of Diana's life are the same, until the crash we all (except perhaps the conspiracy theorists among us) know she died in. In this version, Diana decided to fake her only death shortly after the infamous accident in Paris. Here, she drowned, and her body was never found.

The book opens in a seemingly normal, non-descript American town named Kensington (yes, really). Three female friends are drinking white wine and waiting on Lydia to celebrate her birthday. Soon, the action flashes back one month, and we meet Lydia. As the pieces come together, it's lovely. Ali's writing is mesmerizing. It's both highly literary and immensely readable. The language is luminous, but it fits the plot, pace and story beautiful.

The novel is told in three voices: Lydia, as she talks about her life now, rightly serves as the chief narrator. It's her story, and the focus is on the now. We also slowly piece together the clues of how she managed to escape the life through journal entries and letters of her former personal assistant. Finally, we have Grabowski, a paparazzo who followed Diana for years. He's working on a book collection of his photos of her for the 10th anniversary of her death.

I loved the pace of this novel. It slowly draws the reader in, and as the three storylines connect, the character-driven novel morphs into a suspenseful one. I read this novel compulsively in a day and a half. It was fascinating, gripping and incredibly compelling.

Untold Story will not appeal to everyone. The quality of Ali's writing keeps what could easily be silly (Kensington) from becoming so.
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Format: Hardcover
There are a few things to know before reading my review of Monica Ali's Untold Story. The first- and perhaps most important- is that I am not your run of the mill American when it comes to knowledge of Britain's royal family. At the age of nine I began avidly collecting things about Princess Diana, so if Untold Story wasn't factually correct, I would definitely know it. The other thing to know is that as a child I dreamed that Diana would decide to visit me in the midwest and would fit right in with my very average lifestyle.

The idea that perhaps Princess Diana staged her own death is one I have heard before. Because she died in a car accident and - as far as the general public knows- there was a body, it seems impossible that her death was staged. Ali's book, however, changed a few facts about Diana's death in order for this plot to work. Instead of a car accident taking Diana's life, she instead stages her death as a drowning accident where no body was ever recovered. Now, ten years later she is living in a midwestern town trying to recreate her life. Her hair color is changed and she has undergone plastic surgery. And she is very careful not to get too close to anybody. When a papperazo from her days as a princess turns up in Kensington where she now lives, Lydia as she is now known, must make some careful decisions about her future.

I really liked this book. A lot. Before I started reading I wondered how I would feel about this book, realizing that I would either really like it or really dislike it - that there probably wouldn't be a whole lot of middle ground. Ali's Untold Story reminds me very much of American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld which is a fictional take on Laura Bush's life - and I loved, loved, loved American Wife.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I thought this might be a fun read about "what could have been." Nope - don't waste your money.
***SPOILER ALERT *** The primary element used to build tension is the continuously repeated thoughts of the princess ("Does he know who I am?") and the photographer ("Is it really her?"). I understand that those thoughts would be uppermost in each person's mind, but after a few hundred pages, it becomes tedious. The plot turns on an unreasonable number of coincidences, including the princess settling in Kensington, USA, and the photographer stumbling across the town. I did like how supportive her friends were in helping her escape, but it was completely unrealistic that they would have no curiosity about why they needed to help her. And I echo the other reviewers' comments regarding the lack of development of the supporting characters; they were almost completely flat. This is a personal pet peeve that won't annoy all readers: the book ends ambiguously for all the major characters. Lawrence dies, presumably, not having shredded his memoir, as he intended to do. John returns to England, never to darken the city limits of Kensington, USA, again (Really? He would NEVER return to check out the possibility that his "story of a lifetime" still existed?) And worst of all, the princess swims out into the dark, "sees" Lawrence, and keeps swimming. I would have much preferred a more definite ending in which she confides in her boyfriend and finds some happiness after her life of torment. I understand that finding happiness in the end wouldn't be in character with her difficult life, but isn't that the purpose of fiction?
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