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What if Princess Diana were still alive?

Novelist Monica Ali – and others – indulge in speculation over alternate endings to the story of the Princess of Wales.

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Here’s how Ali responded to criticism that her novel was a low-brow story on celebrity, in an interview with NPR: ”To certain members of the literary establishment, it's a kind of crime to write a book that's entertaining and easy to read," she says – but easy reads can also be thoughtful. "I certainly had to grapple with as much complexity and social situations and issues in writing this book as I did in anything else I've ever written…. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that issues of fame and celebrity, whether you like it or not, are an important part of modern life.”

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And then there’s that ghoulish Newsweek cover that’s already sparked thousands of outraged comments.

It depicts Diana, smartly styled as always, in a cream-colored sheath, purse, and hat, strolling alongside Kate Middleton, the daughter-in-law she never knew.

The accompanying story, written by Newsweek editor Tina Brown, imagines Diana at 50, had she lived. (Her 50th birthday is approaching).

“What would she have been like? Still great-looking: that’s a given. Her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, with her cornflower-blue eyes and striding sexuality, was a handsome woman to the very end. Fashionwise, Diana would have gone the J.Crew and Galliano route à la Michelle Obama, always knowing how to mix the casual with the glam. There is no doubt she would have kept her chin taut with strategic Botox shots and her bare arms buff from the gym. Remarriage? At least two, I suspect, on both sides of the Atlantic.”

As with “Untold Story,” “American Wife,” and “Freddy and Fredericka,” is the Newsweek cover warranted? Is writing fictionalized accounts of actual people (living or not) the horrible union of literature and pop culture celebrity obsession? Is it fair? Is it worthy literary exploration or low-brow fluff?

Perhaps the Los Angeles Times framed the question best: “Shocking, brilliant or just plain cheap?”

Husna Haq is a Monitor contributor.

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