Untold Story by Monica Ali
[Clothes store owner Amber, in the small US town of Kensington, has invested in some new gowns, and is showing them to her English friend Lydia]
Closet, the store, turned over nicely on the staples of wraparound dresses, A-line skirts and little beaded cardigans favoured perennially by Kensington women, supplemented by the prom-season business, flirty numbers in fuchsia and gold and white that retailed around $300, and formal floor-length durables that offered good bosom support and value to the Kensington matrons who invested for a silver wedding and expected, God willing, to be seen through to the diamond anniversary…
The dress was a pale green column with silver embroidery and soft ruffle flowers sweeping up diagonally, which made Lydia think of Valentino, though of course the work was not as fine.
‘Come out here,’ called Amber. There was no mirror in the fitting room, because Amber said Kensington women were too quick and ready to make wrong-headed assessments without giving the outfits a chance: a few pins in the hemline, a switch of blouse, a scarf at the throat, could make all the difference. Lydia strutted out like a catwalk model, hand to hip, face set, head turning left and right. Amber applauded and whistled and then took Lydia by the shoulders and turned her to face the mirror. ‘Beautiful,’ Amber murmured, ‘just beautiful.’ Lydia took a breath. Ten years since she’d worn a floor-length gown. There was a hot little hole in her stomach that she would not on any account pay attention to, focusing instead on equalizing the length of her inhale and exhale. ‘Fits like a glove,’ said Amber. ‘How about that?’
observations: It is not a spoiler to say that this book is an alternate life for Princess Diana – one in which she survives the car crash, subsequently fakes her own death, and goes to live in a small town in America, called, with hammer-handed symbolism, Kensington. So far, so bizarre. In terms of the mysteries of life here is a huge one (though maybe only for me): Brick Lane was Ali’s first book, a massive bestseller about the life of a Bangladeshi woman living in London. It was hugely praised for its authenticity, (though it wasn’t at all clear how much Ali would know about poverty, or life as an immigrant) – but I found it patronizing, uninvolving and unconvincing. But Untold Story, with its unimaginable premise, its unworkable plot, its complete air of fantasy – well, it had me from the first line. It’s not that you think it is possible or true, it’s just that you feel IF such an incredible plotline was conceivable, then this is a totally reasonable work-out for it. The picture of American life, and clothes, is excellent, and you can just give yourself up to it. Highly enjoyable.
Links up with: American Wife took another real person’s life and made a fiction from it. Valentino dresses feature here and here.
The picture is by the American artist John White Alexander, and is called The Green Dress.