The life and death of Diana Spencer: new fiction publications

  • The List
  • 4 June 2007

Authors Eoin McNamee and Tom Cain present two equally invigorating fictional accounts of Lady Diana's tragic death in Paris

As the tenth anniversary of Diana Spencer’s violent death races into view, Brian Donaldson enjoys the guilty pleasures of two novels set in Paris on that fateful night

Picture: © Channel 4

In the recent Channel 4 documentary The Most Offensive Joke in the World, comedian Ian Stone reflected on his recent attempts to make some mild humour out of the mourning of Diana Spencer/Lady Di/the Queen of Hearts. Recalling how his gags were met by hisses and boos, he is somewhat perplexed, unable to believe that people haven’t moved on in ten years. While some comedy audiences may still be unwilling to face up to the death of their beloved Di (Fringe crowds in August might have to brace themselves), the book world has never been shy in making a mint out of this personal and public tragedy.

The scandal-mongering of Andrew Morton and Paul Burrell set a dark tone against some of the more elegiac offerings down the decade, but as the tenth anniversary of her death approaches, we are being blasted with a literary deluge. Among the publications over the next couple of months are The Diana Chronicles from Tina Brown, the British-born journalist who made a name for herself by becoming editor-in-chief of Tatler and The New Yorker, who uses her close-up insight into Spencer’s years in the public eye to portray a life gone badly wrong; Martyn Gregory gives us his updated account of Diana: The Last Days which sees no conspiracy; and Colin McDowell concentrates on the look of the lady who went from blushing bride to depressive self-harmer in Diana Style.

But undoubtedly the most intriguing aspect of this peculiar publishing frenzy is that a pair of very different authors have attempted to turn the events of 31 August 1997 into fiction, placing characters (some real, some made-up) at the centre of this accidental death, or state-sponsored murder depending on who you listen to. Eoin McNamee has created novels out of real people before, namely the Shankhill Butchers in Resurrection Man and the undercover operator Captain Nairac in The Ultras, but he moves away from the legacy of civil warfare in Northern Ireland to write 12:23, about those who were sent to keep an eye on Diana in Paris but failed miserably.

Tom Cain, meanwhile, is the pseudonym for an investigative journalist (John Pilger? Michael Moore? Eamonn Holmes?) who has written the breathless Frederick Forsyth-like Accident Man which uses the Paris crash as a starting off-point for a paranoid thriller as a professional hitman seeks to understand why he has been framed for the killing. The two books could barely be more different in style, but both hit the right note within their own boundaries, and are particularly exhilarating when the action moves inexorably towards the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, at the beginning for Cain, and the bitter climax for McNamee.

Of course, the rubble of this event may never be swept away and every now and again someone will come back to make documentaries like Channel 4’s traumatic Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel or write books such as 12:23 or Accident Man. But the right moment for fictionalising the tragedy is undoubtedly now and ideally won’t be returned to. We’re lucky to have two distinct, yet equally invigorating impressions of this one horrible event.

12:23 published by Faber on Fri 15 Jun; Accident Man published by Bantam on Mon 2 Jul.

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