The importance of physical beauty and indefinable nature of yearning is at the heart of His Lovely Wife, an exotic tale of passion, lust and loneliness set in the world's most romantic city. The lovely thirty-something Ellen Baxter is visiting Paris on the morning before the tragic car accident that killed Princess Diana. Ellen's scientist husband, Lawrence, is attending a prestigious physics conference, and both are staying at the Ritz.
The paparazzi pound the pavement outside the famous hotel, hoping to catch a
glimpse of Diana and inexplicably mistake Ellen for the famous Princess. Perhaps this is a portent for things to come; although Ellen has never thought much about Diana, lately she has been seeing the woman as a sort of kindred spirit, admiring
her for her efforts to finally achieve independence and build a life for herself apart from the strictures of the royal family.
At first, Ellen doesn't believe that it really was Diana in that car, under that bridge. She goes to the scene of the accident and sees the wreck, and the crowds trying to comprehend their grief. The sight of the flowers and wreaths spin her into a maelstrom of confusion and self-doubt, but nothing prepares her for the surprise she gets when Diana's spirit starts filtering into her consciousness.
Diana's voice becomes louder, and Ellen begins to obsess over Max Kafka, a photographer who put a picture of the Princess on one of the memorials lining the site of the accident. She decides to hunt him down
- not because she wants to interrogate him about his involvement, but because she feels strangely drawn to this enigmatic photographer, her feelings for him somehow tied to her feelings for Diana.
Lonely in her marriage, Ellen is the first to confess that she doesn’t have a single marketable skill except that she
is "good with people, and loves charities." Her mother, a former Miss Alabama with her singing ventriloquist act, instilled in Ellen from an early age that life is a pageant, "It's one big long beauty contest and the girl who gets the best husband wins." Consequently, Ellen is now approaching middle age
and finds herself as a sort of "trophy wife" to a brilliant, talented, but distant man, who cares little about her emotional well-being
or her striving for independence.
Everything is frenetic for Ellen with everything rushing towards an end: "the summer, the century, the millennium, Diana" - perhaps her marriage to Lawrence will also come to an end, her efforts to have sex with Max her final swansong, before she must decide what to do. As she listens to Diana's voice inside her head, the Princess tells her she has spent so much of her adult life trying to figure out what she was doing on the planet and she doesn't think she ever feels like she's found the answer. It
is only through listening to Diana that Ellen can perhaps make sense of her own desires.
Author Elizabeth Dewberry cleverly uses Ellen's predicament – and her reaction to Diana's death - to cast a protracted eye on the human condition and the choices that people make and then regret. There
is sadness in Ellen's life, a feeling of wasted years, a mid-life crisis that is growing as the years steadily pass. The themes are the nature of adoration - Diana chose men who gave her what she wanted, and then she did all her charity work to compensate, because she still wanted to deserve it
- and the ability to connect: Ellen discerns that we are all intimately connected to the universe in ways we cannot explain, and sometimes she feels it, "that infinite yearning for light in my own center, plain as desire."
Unique and distinctive, His Lovely Wife weaves together complex observations on the importance of science and the nature of the universe and its view of a frustrated, lonely woman stuck in a vacuous marriage, whose yearning to connect is as dynamic and potent as it is contemporary. Dewberry, by the novel's end, is not able to resolve any of Ellen's issues, although her journey is fraught with much self-knowledge. It is only through listening to Diana's voice that Ellen comes to the conclusion that her ability to connect with someone through passion will define who she is and perhaps, in the process, make her a better person.