Diana's happy ending in a book

Imagining Diana is written by Diane Clehane and published by Metabook to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's (above) death.
Imagining Diana is written by Diane Clehane and published by Metabook to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's (above) death.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A new novel, Imagining Diana, imagines that Princess Diana survived the car accident in Paris and tells of her efforts to rebuild her life

LONDON • In a new novel called Imagining Diana, readers find Princess Diana having lunch in Manhattan at Michael's, nodding hello to Barbara Walters on her way in, dressed in an Oscar de la Renta suit and sitting at Table One.

Her date is a literary agent who is pushing her to write a memoir, one that would not just be about the do-gooder stuff. One that would dish about the aftermath of the accident and whether it was true that her post-divorce friendship with Prince Charles was driving Camilla batty with jealousy.

"I wanted it to be true and to reflect how complex a person she was," said Diane Clehane, author of the novel published by Metabook to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death.

"I wasn't interested in doing anything that was cheesy or tawdry."

The novel imagines that Princess Diana survived the car accident in Paris that killed her on Aug 31, 1997, and then tells of her efforts to rebuild her life.

"Since her death, she has become even more fascinating," said Clehane, sitting at Table One at Michael's (from which she files a column called Lunch for Adweek).

Princess Diana was famous before the Internet and before millions of iPhones began to track every detail of a celebrity's life.

To observe her, the public relied on paparazzi, magazines, newspapers and television.

Biographers, including long-time editor Tina Brown, have documented how she tried to shape all this coverage by making herself selectively available.

"She was the first global celebrity because she was authentic," said Hilary Black, editor of National Geographic's new book Remembering Diana: A Life In Photographs.

"Once she realised she could master the media, she took a feminist stance and told her story the way she wanted to tell it."

In today's curated, fake news era, it is perhaps inevitable that fact and fiction would begin to mingle in books, movies and television.

"The best of fiction has always tried to get at truth where journalism cannot," said Curtis Sittenfeld, author of the 2008 book American Wife, a novel that based the life of a fictional first lady on the life of a real one, Mrs Laura Bush.

Alternate reality, though gaining prevalence today, is hardly new.

The 2015 Amazon series The Man In The High Castle, based on a 1960s book, focuses on a United States divided into Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States after the Allies lose World War II.

In the 2004 novel The Plot Against America, Philip Roth wrote of a US in which Charles Lindbergh, a Nazi sympathiser, is elected president in 1940.

Novelist Monica Ali said the genre provides writers with a valuable literary device to contemplate culture. She is the author of Untold Story, a 2011 book in which a princess, based on Diana, escapes her life in order to find ordinary pleasures in suburban life.

"Novels aren't 'fake'," Monica said. "They're fictional. Their purpose is not to deceive by making stuff up, it's to illuminate by reaching for truths (about human nature) that aren't about facts, but about the way we see the world and our place in it."

Perhaps there is an element of wish fulfilment as well, at least for Clehane.

"It was cathartic," she said of writing Imagining Diana, a process that led her to surround herself in homemade "Diana mood boards" and to watch every piece of Princess Diana footage she could find.

With the new book, Clehane wanted to show that Princess Diana would have found happiness and overcome her insecurities.

"I believe the love she felt for her sons would have pulled her back from whatever precipice she felt she was on," she said as her eyes welled with tears.

Clehane will not be denied her happy ending for Princess Diana, even if the princess was.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2017, with the headline 'Diana's happy ending in a book'. Print Edition | Subscribe