As surely as every American of a certain generation knows where they were the night Kennedy died, the same can be said of every Brit on the morning the news broke of Diana’s death. Whether you were a fan or not and yes, public opinion on Diana was very mixed at the time of her death in the UK, the tragedy hit home hard. Personally, I was in my twenties, living in a suburb of London called Kilburn and, having been out the previous night, was ever so irritated to be awoken by my mother’s phone call at 8am. Irritation quickly turned to shock as I and my then flatmate, Binky, watched endless hours of television that morning. For weeks, irrespective of your interest, there was not one detail missed. It was impossible to either turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper without Diana’s death being the lead story.
Laurence Cosse’s novel, An Accident in August, is very clever indeed, focussing on arguably one tiny, unsolved detail of the whole case. Who was the driver of the white Fiat Uno that was in the Alma tunnel at the time of the incident? I say tiny, for in the scale of what happened it was, but rumours continue to circulate to this day, although nothing has been proven. Was it the paparazzi? Perhaps an assassin paid to kill Diana in light of her relationship with Dodi Al Fayed? Or an innocent driver, making their way home? Chances are that we will never know for sure. In fact, when it came to writing this piece, I found myself going online to try to find out a little more about it, to see if there really were any suggested culprits.
From the beginning of this tale, you know that Lou is the driver. Neither you nor Lou, really understand why she didn’t stop and find out who was in the vehicle or offer some kind or help, but then Cosse would not have written this remarkable piece of fiction. What we have in An Accident in August, is a fantastic unravelling of one woman’s life amidst building media hype surrounding the death. Endlessly you wonder about how you would handle the problem had you been caught up in one of the most infamous moments in modern history. Lou is a perfectly ordinary waitress, driving home from work on the night of Diana’s death. Thereafter her life is anything but ordinary as she determines her own path around the ensuing media frenzy. Should she hand herself in? Exit the country? Get rid of the car? What about her relationship? It’s a fascinating read and certainly I hadn’t read anything like it in a long time.
I never warmed to the character of Lou and perhaps I wasn’t meant to, given her essential fatal flaw of having failed to stop. Over the last week or two, I have found myself frequently thinking about this novel and wondering whether it is something I would recommend to a friend. I enjoyed it, yet I hesitate to pass it on. Why? Maybe it’s the Diana thing, even after all these years I still don’t feel the need for more stories about her? Perhaps it’s because it brings back an unhappy time in history? It’s truly hard to put my finger on. The novel itself is relatively short, coming in at just 192 pages and it’s certainly thought provoking, but it isn’t an easy read. Lou is ‘everywoman’, her story is just one small slight of hand away from happening to any of us and I think that is where the true horror of this story lies. It hits too close to home and ultimately in doing so, as a reader, we find ourselves wanting. Yes, we could argue that we would do it differently, but Cosse’s genius, lies in the fact that he understands all too well that we probably would not.