Posts Tagged ‘alternate history’

Imagine if Princess Diana had not died in a car crash in Paris, but had instead faked her death, changed her appearance and escaped to small-town America, to live a life free from the glare of publicity and gossip. That is the premise of Monica Ali’s novel untold story and as preposterous as it sounds, it is told in a way which makes it feasible.

Lydia Snaresbrook is a British woman living in a quiet town in America. She has made a small but close circle of friends, she has a job at a local dog rescue centre, and she has even started a relationship with a lovely man. However, she is never quite able to relax for fear that someone will find out her true identity, and she will once again become the focus of publicity. Only one person knew the truth about her death and that was her private secretary Lawrence. But then a face from the past comes to town and spots Lydia – and he thinks there is something very familiar about her indeed…

The story is told in chapters which alternate between Lydia’s point of view, and the point of view of a significant other character (no spoilers though) – both told in the third person. There are also a few chapters which are excerpts from her private secretary’s diary, which give insight into the state of mind which Lydia was in before, during and shortly after her disappearing act.

I really enjoyed the first 80%-ish of this book. Monica Ali writes beautifully and brings all her characters to life. She captures both the freedom and the fear of exposure that Lydia feels – freedom to finally live her life as she chooses, but all the while worrying about threats to that freedom. Bravely she portrays Lydia as a complicated woman, sometimes high-maintenance and difficult to deal with, but also having had to deal with tremendous pressure.

However, I did feel that the story took a strange turn towards the end and I was slightly disappointed in how it turned out. But I was interested throughout and I always enjoy when the same scene is shown from different points of view, which happens here several times.

Overall an enjoyable reading experience, and I would definitely read more by Monica Ali.

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As the back of the book states, in this story, “A vain, outlandish, anti-immigrant demagogue runs for President of the United States … and wins.” If that sounds horribly familiar to today, pause for a moment and realise that this book was written in 1935.

In an alternative timeline to what happened in real life, Buzz Windrip wins the Democratic nomination for president over FDR, and runs a campaign claiming that he will make America great again, appealing mainly to angry Americans who have suffered from the Great Depression. To Doremus Jessup, mild-mannered newspaper editor, the thought of Windrip as President is bemusing, but even as they hear reports of fascists like Hitler and Mussolini rising to power in Europe, he and like minded friends tell themselves and each other, “It can’t happen here.” And then it does.

When Windrip takes power, bemusement turns to anger and horror as innocent people have their jobs and homes taken away, and people are put into prison or tortured – or worse – for daring to disagree with the regime.

The writing style doesn’t always flow easily, and the book did take a few chapters to get going, but despite this I found myself absorbed, and I urge others to read this book. It makes for uncomfortable and extremely thought-provoking reading, even if afterwards I found I needed, in fact craved, something more light-hearted.

Definitely recommended, especially in light of today’s political climate.

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