Author: Monica Ali, 2012.
Genre: Chick-lit. Alternative History.
Other Details: Paperback. 368 pages.
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; another sells houses; another is a frenzied stay-at-home mother. Lydia works at an animal shelter and swims every morning. Her lover, who adores her, feels she won't let him know her. Who is she?
Imagine if this woman was once one of the most famous living on our planet? A woman who captivated the entire world? A woman whose sudden death was mourned by millions. Who is she? - synopsis from UK publisher's website
The premise of this novel is an intriguing 'what if''. The novel has a number of narrative threads including Lydia reflecting upon her former life and the ten years since she faked her death; a secret journal written by her former private secretary and co-conspirator, and finally Lydia in the present coming to terms with the quietness of her current life. Suddenly that peace is threatened by a British photojournalist who is touring small USA towns. He had been one of the paparazzi who had followed the Princess closely and when he catches sight of Lydia, even with her altered appearance, it rings a bell. So begins a game of cat and mouse as he seeks to confirm his suspicion that he has stumbled upon the story of the century, which in the final chapters takes on some aspects of a thriller.
Monica Ali is very careful about not naming anyone except by titles. Yet it is very clear who is meant to be who. The Paris car accident does take place though as a near-miss and we then spin into alternative history. On one level the novel is firmly in chick-lit territory as a woman entering middle-age comes to terms with ageing and life being more settled. Yet added to this is the tension produced by the accidental encounter with the paparazzi and her true identity.
Monica Ali obviously researched her subject and cites a bibliography of sources on the Royal Family. She presents the Princess of Wales as a complex, conflicted personality. I was not a particular fan of the Princess, finding her antics with the media rather trying. Yet here I was able to empathise with the fictional Lydia and the stresses of her early life and was rooting for her to find peace and happiness.
This was a library reading group selection though due in a special event in October will not be discussed until late November.