The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer
Posted by Caitie F on August 15, 2012
Summary from publisher:
Before she became the nineteenth-century’s heroine, before he had written a word of Madame Bovary, Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert traveled up the Nile at the same time. In reality, they never met. But Enid Shomer’s The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, they ignite a friendship marked by intelligence, humor, and a ravishing tenderness that will alter both their destinies.
On the surface, Nightingale and Flaubert have little in common. She is a woman with radical ideas about society and God, naive in the ways of men. He is a notorious womanizer, involved with innumerable prostitutes. But both are at painful crossroads in their lives and burn with unfulfilled ambition. In Enid Shomer’s deft hands, the two unlikely soulmates come together to share their darkest torments and fervent hopes. Brimming with adventure and the sparkling sensibilities of the two travelers, this mesmerizing debut novel offers a luminous combination of gorgeous prose and wild imagination, all of it colored by the opulent tapestry of mid-nineteenth century Egypt.
Fiction that includes historical fiction is always interesting and when that idea was paired with the adventure of exploring Egypt and some romance, I knew I would have to read the book. Know that it is not light and fun, it is a book that will make you think and ponder.
Let me start with my issue with it. I have no idea what parts actually happened. I know that Nightingale and Flaubert never actually met. But the author used a lot of primary sources to learn what they would sound like and how they thought. So I am assuming Nightingale’s thoughts on marriage are accurate. What about her letters? Were any of those close to the actual letters? What about her relationships with her family and her servants? I just wish I knew what was true and what was not, without having to read all the primary sources myself!
If you can overlook that, it is really a great book. Be prepared to want to visit Egypt if you don’t already though. The rich setting made me feel like I could see the temples and the river. It never felt like there was too much, but it was enough that whenever I stopped reading I had to reorient myself to my surroundings.
The narration went back and forth between Nightingale and Flaubert and I found myself preferring Nightingale’s side of things by far. She had really issues and problems to deal with compared to the whining of Flaubert that no one understood him. She wanted to step out on her own and go against society. She wanted to make a difference in the world. In her time, trying to do that without a husband was not an easy thing. Her ideas will make the reader think about gender roles even in society today.
The great thing about the duel narrators was getting to see how actions and conversations were interpreted by each, since it was rarely in the same way. It was also nice to get to see how they treated those around them, especially since they are both from the upper class. Flaubert also provided some much needed comic relief, since his was often the lighter side of things.
Overall, it is a very good piece of historical fiction and if you like the genre, and like a book that makes you think about the times, you should give it a try.