Princess Di is alive and well and living incognito in an ordinary American town in this buzzy fourth novel from the British Ali (In the Kitchen, 2009, etc.).
How did she do it? And why? Those are the biggest questions looming over this speculative fiction. Her movement from one life into another was orchestrated by her top aide and only true confidant, Lawrence Standing. He set up a safe house for her in Brazil, where she was spirited after a nocturnal swim from her yacht. Lawrence oversaw her plastic surgery in Rio and the paperwork for her new identity: Lydia Snaresbrook. As for her reasons, she feared “they” wanted her dead; the press was driving her crazy; most of all, her lifestyle was hurting her boys. This portrait of the princess jibes with the common perception. She was a bundle of contradictions: tough yet fragile; naïve yet suspicious; narcissistic yet empathetic. To these Lawrence adds one more—leaving her boys was both selfish and “her greatest act of selflessness.” Certainly she has been racked by guilt and longing for them in the 10 years since she left. For it’s now 2007, and Lydia has found a comfortable niche in neighborly Kensington. She has her own modest home; a congenial job at a canine shelter; a rock-steady boyfriend, Carson; and three super girlfriends. They don’t pry; she has a good cover story. Lydia is a tamer, emasculated version of the tempestuous Di. The novel has an awkward structure, but its real failing is that Ali has not drilled down into Lydia’s essence. Is she capable of commitment? Unanswered question. By chance, or rather contrivance, there’s a newcomer in town, Grabowski, a paparazzo, one of the Brits who chased Diana. Her extraordinary eyes give her away. Instead of a novel of character, we get the cheap thrill of a cat-and-mouse game, as Grabowski senses the scoop of a lifetime.
Despite the bold premise, this gifted writer has, uncharacteristically, settled for less.