The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
The story of these three women at either end of the twentieth century is one of love, friendship and the determination to choose one’s own path. Their personal narratives are interwoven with the politics of a country that never properly recovers from occupation by the British, with decades of government by career politicians with little affection for, or understanding of, the common man (let alone woman).
While I did enjoy it, the 500 odd pages didn’t merit the Booker Prize shortlisting from when it was first published in 1999. It wasn’t easy to follow the politics when none of the women, while interested, can directly participate and, while Anna Winterbourne is a fascinating character, I felt irritated by being told how fascinating she was to Amal.
I’m not a fan of romance, but it did make me wonder if I would have been tempted by the one-and-a-half offers of marriage I received in a month in Egypt if I’d been drawn to the men as Anna was drawn to Sharif.
Oxygen by Sacha Naspini translated by Clarissa Botsford
Although we come to understand that the Italian anthropologist perceived the abduction as an experiment, the author doesn’t take us deeply into his motives. Instead, we focus on the impact of his misdeeds on others: Luca, the girl herself, her family, her childhood friend and an American child who goes missing several years later. The author cleverly presents the different perspectives sequentially, so that the story unfolds in layers of progressively more unsettling consequences. I loved the surprise ending.
A couple of therapists get referenced and, in general fictional psychotherapist fashion, don’t provide a lot of help, but I managed to gloss over that. Few real-life therapists could adequately address the issues. On a very different note, if you’re cautious about facing scenes of torture, it’s worth noting that the anthropologist never touches his victim. Neither does he speak to her, but he does ensure she gets an education. For me, it was the manageable kind of disturbing.
There must be something in the water, as this is my third review of a novel about kidnap this month; go here for the other two. Although all three are well worth your time, this is the one I’m adding to my favourites list. Thanks to publishers, Europa editions, for my review copy.
Of course it fits with my past and current writerly preoccupations, with my 2017 novel about a man who seeks to resolve a relationship crisis by keeping a woman captive in a cellar and my forthcoming third novel about a woman who has spent fifty years as a patient in a long-stay psychiatric hospital. Click on either image to learn more.
I haven’t done very well with this week’s flash fiction challenge. I couldn’t get my head around the idea of party hens. But I’ve produced my 99-word story, with a little help from The Map of Love.
His uncles called it the henhouse. He never questioned why. Nor did he question why it was here he’d find the plumpest pillows, the most sumptuous fabrics, the liveliest music, the sweetest cakes. There was always an aunt willing to dance with him, tell him stories, throw a ball. He never questioned why the women hid their faces when a husband entered or why they breathed a sigh when the visitor left. He never queried his right to play there, until he arrived, expecting a party, and the door was closed in his face. Banished, exiled, launched into manhood.