Lux by Elizabeth Cook
In a place where ‘adulteresses’, but not the men of course, are stoned to death, Bathsheba’s pregnancy is a problem. So David summons her husband home from the war so that the child might be seen to have a legitimate father. But the soldier does not avail himself of the opportunity to sleep with his wife. David has him killed.
Problem solved, thinks David, until the prophet, Nathan, shows him how badly he’s behaved. David spends seven nights fasting in a cave and repenting a lifetime of sins.
Fast forward to the court of another king who believes himself above the moral law. The poet, Thomas Wyatt, is careful not to show his disapproval when Henry unveils his new tapestry of David and Bathsheba. In and out of prison, witnessing the executions of Thomas Cromwell and of Ann Boleyn, Thomas finds some consolation in ‘Englishising’ David’s psalms.
In her second novel, Elizabeth Cook has followed her own passions rather than literary trends (although, with Wolf Hall, Henry XIII might be one) to good effect. Her command of language, and of her material, makes this an extremely satisfying read, the biblical part reminiscent of Jim Crace’s Quarantine. If that weren’t enough, the hardback (mine courtesy of publisher Scribe) has gorgeous endpapers taken from the tapestry.
Love in the Kingdom of Oil by Nawal el Saadawi translated by Basil Hatim and Malcolm Williams
In a dreamlike state, the woman finds herself living with a man, forced to transport enormous jars of oil on her head in the blazing sun. He beats her, and refuses to share their meagre water ration, while she is expected to cook for him whenever he’s hungry. She thinks of escape, but has no money for the journey home. As they for His Majesty’s birthday celebrations, she becomes gradually more like the other women, accepting her degradation.
Obviously it’s about the subjugation of women but, with nothing else to anchor me, I found it a depressing and tedious read, and had to dash to the finish line to get it over with. Disappointing when I’m a fan of Nawal el Saadawi. This English translation was published by Saqi Books in 2001 and has just been reissued, along with her first book, Memoirs of a Woman Doctor. Thanks to them for my review copy.