The Story Of Her Life

SINCE THE PRINCESS OF WALES DIED a year ago, it seems that virtually everyone with a word processor and a tiara fetish has written a new book. How else to explain titles like "Dreaming of Diana: The Dreams Diana, Princess of Wales, Inspired" or the catchy "Diana Lives: The Sensational Psi Protocols From the Tunnel of Death"? Now dozens of authors are seeking to cash in on the first anniversary of her death. The highs--and lows--of the latest crop of books:

THE DAY DIANA DIED by Christopher Andersen (295 pages. William Morrow.) Andersen, an American journalist, weaves a suspenseful narrative by interspersing information from confidential police files with interviews of compelling witnesses, like the first doctor to arrive at the accident scene. And he actually makes some fresh discoveries. The most shocking: Andersen alleges that within an hour of hearing of Diana's death, Queen Elizabeth II dispatched British Consul General Keith Moss to the Paris hospital to recover any royal jewels. "The Queen wants to know, "Where are the jewels?"' Andersen quotes Moss as saying. (Buckingham Palace has denounced the book as "complete fantasy.") The villain of Andersen's account is driver Henri Paul, who was high on a mixture of booze and pills the night of the crash. "You won't catch us tonight," he taunted the paparazzi outside the Ritz Hotel. "Don't even try." Andersen also offers well-sourced dismissals of baseless theories (Di was not pregnant, planning to marry Dodi or the victim of a murder plot.) His sharpest insight: of the four people who got into the car that night, the Princess of Wales was the most fit to drive. No one had more experience motoring around a city with the press in hot pursuit.

DIANA: PORTRAIT OF A PRINCESS by Jayne Fincher (224 pages. Simon &Schuster.) As the only female official royal photographer, Fincher trained her admiring lens on Diana for more than 18 years. Of the more than 500 photos in this book, 75 percent have never been published before. Even the text is fresh, as Fincher records telling snippets of her chats with Di over the years; the princess had trouble smiling for a photo shoot the day after Prince William's birth because she "was in agony" and "could barely walk," Diana told her, and she "collapsed in tears" as soon as they got in the car. And when Fincher asked Di in 1987 what she would be if she weren't the Princess of Wales, she replied, "a marriage guidance counselor."

THE PRINCESS & THE PACKAGE by Michael Levine (352 pages. Renaissance Books.) The "package" of this title refers to the gift-wrapped image of Princess Di created by--and for--the press. Subtitled "Exploring the Love-Hate Relationship Between Diana and the Media," Levine's book is thoughtful, well-researched and meticulously documented. (He interviewed more than 50 people, including journalists and academics.) Though occasionally dry and overly earnest, it does raise some provocative questions. Among them: by courting the press so aggressively in life, did Diana contribute in any way to her own death?

THE DIANA I KNEW by Mary Robertson (98 pages. HarperCollins.) This syrupy account might as well be titled "I Got to Go to the Wedding and You Didn't." When Robertson moved from America to London in 1980, she hired 18-year-old Diana Spencer as a part-time nanny for her infant son. Di began dating Prince Charles that year, and Robertson recounts the motherly advice she gave on what to read, what to wear and how to handle the press. They maintained their friendship over the years, and Robertson attended both Diana's wedding and her funeral. But she is too star-struck to describe either in anything but the most hackneyed terms: she proclaims Diana "an absolute vision" and finds Charles "terrific." She and her husband are "floored" to be at the wedding. The funeral was "the most wrenching day of my life."

AFTER DIANA, Mandy Merck, ed.(231 pages. Verso Books.) This quasi-academic collection of essays takes a little too seriously its mission to "analyze [Diana's] death rather than lament it." The high point: Oxford history fellow Ross McKibbin's finely tuned "mass-observation" on the Mall the week Diana died, which includes the "pungent, sweet smell" of the flowers and an "elderly black woman singing hymns in a cracked voice." The low point: Christopher Hitchens's self-congratulatory piece on the vast number of interviews he was asked to give following Diana's death.

DIANA by Julie Burchill (240 pages. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.) Columnist Julie Burchill is one of London's most acerbic feminist writers. But in this immensely readable volume she goes gaga for her subject, delivering a deliciously witty retelling of the fairy tale. She turns the princess into a helpless victim of those evil royals, saying of Charles: "Up against him, a two-eyed sloth would have looked wonderful." As for Diana, she writes that her clothes--"that blue engagement suit which made her look like an airline hostess! That frilly blouse! That wretched jumper with the sheep on it, like an insomniac's nightmare!--were proof that only cats are born with style; humans have to learn it.'

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