In 2011, we were all gripped to our televisions as the various revolutions of the Arab Spring rocked the Arab world, but could I tell you the sequence of events now? Could I heck.
So I was really intrigued to read a fiction book set during the Egyptian Revolution, as I often find that reading a fictionalised account of something makes me want to learn more about it. This book, the debut by Yorkshire writer NE David, however, made me want to know more about the history of ancient Egypt, rather than the present.
This is the story of recently retired British Foreign Office desk jockey Michael Blake, who loves Egypt because you never know what’s going to happen, a point that is rather emphasised throughout the text. Treating himself to a cruise down the Nile, Blake hopes to do no more than go birding (NOT twitching) and relax a bit. However, he is drawn in to the lives of his fellow passengers with whom he shares a dinner table, especially Lee Yong, a young rich woman travelling the world on daddy’s money. Blake develops a slightly creepy fixation on Lee Yong, especially after she forms a relationship with the ship’s tour guide Reda. Then one night, whilst the party are shopping in a busy souk, the revolution kicks off and it all suddenly becomes a bit political thriller-y.
More than anything else this book felt wonderfully claustrophobic, and the one thing I took was just how incredibly awful a cruise ship must be, especially for an introvert like Blake. Stuck with horrible boring people for a whole week, forced to share your meals with strangers who never really become friends, but whom you are supposedly relaxing with. I’ve always secretly fancied the whole Nile cruise thing, as the idea of visiting all the amazing locations whilst also being able to float down a beautiful natural habitat is appealing, but if this is what it is like I really don’t now!
Blake is a man who sees himself as an observer, and who is shamed by the revolution into becoming something more. But I never really liked him and I think this was mostly because of his strangely visceral hatred of fat people, with fat characters within the book either treated as objects of disgust or mocked. This fat phobia is never explained and HAES-ers might be triggered by this. Blake also struck me as a little Morse-y round the edges, but that might just be because I’ve been watching a LOT of Morse at the moment!
If you are into your Egyptian history or nature, and like books that dip into current events this is a book that really immerses itself in the country which you can tell the author knows a great deal about, and the idea of what is ‘British’ makes this book a good talking point-book clubs especially would get on with it.