Reviewed by Clare Brook
Virginia, North America, July 1911, two fifteen year old girls are coming of age. They are best friends, Mary Kirk and Wallis Warfield and their exciting young adult lives are just beginning.
Paris, 31st August 1997, in a tunnel, a young woman’s life is ending. She is Princess Diana.
Gill Paul reconstructs these events, on this, the twentieth anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, in her latest novel Another Woman’s Husband. The dual narratives, one following the rise and fall of Wallis Warfield, later Simpson, and later still, The Duchess of Windsor; the other concerns theories on probable causes of Princess Dianna’s fatal accident. All of which is well-researched historical fact. Details concerning Wallis Simpson are based on a biography – That Woman by Anna Sebba (2012) and an autobiography The Heart Has Its Reasons by The Duchess of Windsor (1956). Mary Kirk’s life is based on a biography co-authored by her daughter: The Other Mrs. Simpson by Anne Kirk Cooke and Elizabeth Lightfoot, (1977).
The novel uses quotes from these biographies in dialogue between Mary and Wallis, so adding to the authentic flavour of Paul’s narrative. This brings the reader into the sphere of the characters’ lives, and as such, gives a more rounded understanding of what drives their life choices.
The two separate narratives about Mary and Wallis and Princess Diana, are ingeniously knitted together by three fictitious characters – Rachel and Alex, soon to be married, and Susie Hargreaves, a childhood friend of Diana.
Alex and Rachel are taking a break in Paris from their demanding careers. Rachel runs her own antique fashion business, in Brighton, and Alex is a reporter, working in London. They drive into the Alma Tunnel where Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed are entangled in the wreck of a car. The plot is told from the perspective of Rachel. Alex has switched to reporter mode and later becomes involved in making a documentary about the life of Diana and the facts surrounding the crash; he thinks Diana was murdered.
Gill Paul details, in the course of the narrative, the public response and theories that were circulating at the time. It has been estimated that approximately eighty-five per cent of the British public thought Diana had been murdered, so Paul was not being dramatic, rather portraying accurately the sentiment at the time.
The second story line concerns Wallis and Mary and takes up most of the novel. It is told from the perspective of Mary; through her eyes we follow Wallis and her rather shadowy life. In some regards Wallis is the victim of her circumstances, although she makes some daring decisions. Her first husband, a pilot, is mainly cruel and drunk. Divorcing in this era was hazardous for women, but she really didn’t have a choice. Wallis then marries Ernest Simpson, living in London and moving in high society circles, where she is introduced to the then, Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VIII. As told by Gill Paul, the reader gets an insight into the characters of Wallis and Mary, but also Prince Edward and the somewhat strange attitude of the husbands whose wives he used at will. ‘For King and Country’ seemed to be their slogan.
Whereas readers might be aware of this particular era, given that the events rocked the British establishment, retold countless times in film and book, Paul does add something fresh. History has not been sympathetic towards Wallis, but in this telling opinions might change. The King was portrayed as a weak, ineffectual man and, perhaps, Wallis was a victim of his weak character and social power. Paul leaves some rather interesting theories hanging, regarding other affairs Wallis may have embarked on, particularly German Nazi Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Intrigue weaves itself throughout this novel.
The end of the novel sees the two strands come together to form a satisfying conclusion.
By Gill Paul
Paperback 9781472249111 | $19.99
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