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Untold Story
Monica Ali

Scribner

What if Princess Di hadn’t been killed in that tunnel in Paris but had instead faked her death some months later to escape a life that had become unbearable? It’s an attractive premise that gives rise to some interesting issues. Can she sustain friendships or romance, for instance, while guarding her secret so closely? There’s page-turning tension here, too: Will a paparazzo (disbelief must be seriously suspended to accept the coincidence by which he finds her) ruin everything? But Ali is better than this. Perhaps in an effort to highlight how prosaic Diana and her new American life truly are, she makes her people so flat that they are merely lists of predictable characteristics (and short lists, at that) rather than characters. The exception is the princess’s private secretary, whose diary entries showcase the subtlety and strict attention to point of view that are among Ali’s great talents. Unfortunately, they constitute only a small section of the novel. The pages of this book turn sleekly enough to while away some hours, but Untold Story is so much slighter than Ali’s Booker-shortlisted Brick Lane or In the Kitchen.

News From the World
Paula Fox

Norton

Slim but complete, this collection of Fox’s short works—a few essays, a smattering of memoirs, and a clutch of short stories—might function as a sampler of this once critically lauded, then neglected, and now resurrected grande dame of American literature. Although she’s probably best known for her Newbery-beribboned children’s books—among the first to treat dark subjects such as alcoholism and slavery—her voice is strikingly mature. A writer’s job, she implies in the preface to this collection, is to take a “living interest in all living creatures,” and these pieces attest to her brilliant success at that task. Their subjects are as wide-ranging and vivid as the experiences of a very long life—abandoned children, New Orleans in the 1940s, the intersections of Taos and D. H. Lawrence, neighbors and murders in New York, censorship and the deadening of written English, to name only some. What unites all is a penetrating intelligence, a sympathetic eye, and a dedication to the truth about human nature, whether discouraging or inspiring. Fox deploys the words of other writers—Lawrence, whom she reveres; Orwell; Milton—with well-earned authority and the ease of quoting old friends, and she leaves the reader with a bolstering sense of having been enriched by a view of the world at once rigorously thoughtful and deeply felt.

Saints and Sinners
Edna O’Brien

Back Bay Books

This collection of stories could be read simply for its prose, which is rich as loam. Or for its sharp-eyed discernment of the various drives that coexist amid the welter of human behavior. Here are the heartbreaking striving and the thoughtless snubbing that characterize relations between women of different classes in a small town; the frantic desperation of a wife whose husband is straying; the loneliness of the bed-and-breakfast keeper who secretly fears that she may get attached to guests who stay more than two or three days “and ask them to stay longer, for the company.” O’Brien’s Irish upbringing was intense—her family life was defined by what she has called “money troubles, drink troubles, all sorts of troubles,” and she was strictly educated by the Sisters of Mercy. Her break with Ireland and her family was equally intense, although she remains grateful to the place: “It stirs things up in me,” she told The Guardian. She now lives in England, but O’Brien is often said to capture the sensibility of her homeland in her stories. If that’s what she’s done here, then Ireland is a piercingly beautiful combination of yearning and disappointment, violence and endurance.

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