Moving, surprising and well researched, Enid Shomer’s 2012 The Twelve Rooms of the Nile was my favourite of the books I’ve reviewed this year as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series.
The novel takes an interesting fact—that, before each was famous, Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert travelled through Egypt at the same time—and imagines an alternate history, in which they meet, bond and inspire each other’s respective genius.
The result is an intimate double character study set against the sweeping backdrop of nineteenth-century Egypt, borrowing from Flaubert and Nightingale’s own writings, yet elevated further by Shomer’s distinctive and evocative prose (her previous works have been poetry).
|The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, Enid Shomer (2012)|
You’ll love The Twelve Rooms of the Nile if any of the following apply. You…
Have an interest in Nightingale, Flaubert or both.
Are fascinated by Egyptian mythology and French/British tourism in the nineteenth century.
Enjoy reading love stories that defy conventions of what relationships and intimacy are or should be.
Are interested in fictional depictions of depression, obsession and the artistic temperament.
Have ever felt acutely your difference from those around you or societal and familial expectations of who you should be.
You might find the novel less appealing if you…
Avoid sexual explicitness in (historical) fiction. And I don’t just mean sex scenes—Flaubert is in the midst of writing a treatise on female genitalia.
Want an ‘easy read’—Shomer doesn’t spoon feed and at times she makes you work for it. But rereading and parsing her longer sentences was a joy, not a chore.
|Enid Shomer (1944-)|
This is the kind of novel that left me feeling bereft when I turned the final page—a testament to the power and immediacy of fiction, even if it’s set in a distant time and place.