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Eight Months on Ghazzah Street: A Novel Paperback – July 15, 1997

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Amazon.com Review

Frances Shore has been warned about Saudi Arabia from the word go. En route to join her uncommunicative engineer husband, she tries to ignore the rumors and rumblings she has already heard--women can't drive, alcohol is illegal, morality regulated. But even she is surprised by the airline steward's surreal lesson. The Saudis are "too bloody secretive to have maps," he tells her. "Besides, the streets are never in the same place for more than a few weeks altogether." Frances's first morning in her new home is not quite what she might have expected. There is no telephone, and Andrew has locked the back door behind him (the previous occupant had the front door bricked up so his wife wouldn't encounter her male neighbors). It is, however, similar to the days to come, which oscillate between boredom and fear--the nights broken only by tedious business dinners and sub rosa distilling. When she is allowed outside, she is assailed by official warnings--highway signs reading "YOU ARE FAST, BUT DANGER IS FASTER," a library handout begging, "PLEASE make EVERY effort to return your books if you have to leave the Kingdom hurriedly and unexpectedly." The outside world is ominous enough, but there's also something odd going on in the apartment building: noise from the supposedly empty flat above. The title of this blackly humorous, frightening novel begins to sound like a reprieve: Frances and Andrew Shore will at least be able to leave the country after 8 months. But Hilary Mantel's final twist destroys any dreams of leaving. As one character had earlier warned: "It isn't the roads in town that are dangerous, it's the roads out."

From Library Journal

This excellent British novelist, winner of Britain's Hawthornden Prize, makes her U.S. debut with these two trade paperback editions. Eight Months on Ghazzah Street tells in harrowing, you-are-there style the story of a British cartographer who follows her engineer husband to a job in Saudi Arabia. The claustrophobic world in which she finds herself is hostile to expatriate workers and particularly to women, and the isolated apartment building in which they live seems to hide ominous secret affairs. Frances struggles to understand the lives of her Muslim neighbors but is deeply disturbed by the climate of fear around her. A Change of Climate concerns the loss of faith of an upright Christian couple, Ralph and Anna, who have raised their four children and led exemplary lives but are haunted by a missionary trip to Africa in their youth. Mantel does a superb job of re-creating these foreign cultures as seen through British eyes and has a precise insight into the vagaries of humanity that will delight Barbara Pym fans.?Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (July 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805052038
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805052039
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,141,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Hilary Mantel is the author of nine previous novels, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By David J. Gannon on February 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Frances Shore is a young English bride joining her prototypical bland English engineer husband as expats living in Saudi Arabia. She's been fully warned that life for w woman in Saudi Arabia is "unpleasant", but she quickly learns that "unpleasant" is truly an understatement. The repressive and authoritarian aspects of fundamentalist Muslim society, and the cynicism it breeds among the educated middle classes within it, are on full display here.
Moreover, though the day-to-day grind of Saudi life is stressful enough, Frances begins to suspect that something truly ugly is occurring in their apartment building. She is alone in her concern about this though--her husband is a fairly crass and indifferent sort can't be bothered and, as a woman, she has no standing whatsoever to engage anyone else into looking into things.
This book has been much criticized as "negative" and "exaggerated" but as recent events illuminate the realities of life for women in the Muslim world in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, one has the sense that the book renders a much more realistic picture than many would like to believe.
This is a low key suspense novel. There are no "grand" moments and it does not build to any sort of crescendo. The ending is open and quite ambiguous. However, I see this not as the flaw many proclaim it to be but as a part of the whole. When I finished the book I felt weighted down and oppressed--yet disappointed the story was over. I realized that the books real accomplishment was to render for me in as much a physical as an intellectual way the weight and anxiety that simple day to day life imposes on women in the Muslim world.
And that is no small accomplishment.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By disheveledprofessor on April 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
One of the frustrations [and benefits] of going to live in a foreign culture is that the standards and norms used, usually unconscientiously, for "sizing up" people no longer valid. So how do you determine who is your friend and who is using you? How do you determine what is friendship ad what is mere politeness? How do you determine what you "believe" is truly your belief and what is your cultural conditioning? How do you determine what is virtue? How do you determine which "cultural traditions" should be observed out of politeness and which should not? LIving in a foreign culture is challenging, not only because of external adaptations you may be asked to make, but because of the internal self-examinations you will require of yourself.
Hilary Mantel is a keen observer of human character, human fraility, human environments, and she describes the environment, emotions and atmospheres with a crystal clarity.
Frances and her husband Andrew go to Saudi Arabia, where Andrew, an engineer, has signed a contract to construct a building. They live in an apartment building on Ghazzah Street, where Frances makes friends with the wives there [a Saudi and a Pakistani], and encounters some mystery, as there are sounds coming from a supposedly empty apartment.
Mantel carefully builds up the story, horror replacing the stifling boredom of the place as she progresses. Excerpts from Frances' diary are effectively interspersed in the text. The tension slowly rises, to the mysterious end.
Mantel paints the varied expat communities (and the ugly corporations that do business there) very well, her opprobrium doled out equally to natives and foreigners alike.
The novel is written as an "entertaining read", in a page-turning style -- you are interested in the characters and events.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Joyce L. Tompsett on December 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
I wish I could give a 2-part review of this book. For writing, I'd give it a 4. Well written and interesting.
For content, I would give it a 2. I am a woman, and I have spent time in Middle Eastern countries. While I have not lived in Saudi, I must agree with other readers that she gives a valid yet exaggerated picture of life there. It is valid because things can be like that. Yet it is exaggerated because they are also not that way.
Any culture (as every American knows) can be viewed through the lens that portrays it as venal, banal, empty. Or it can be viewed as rich in possibilities and adventure if you approach it from where it stands.
To be fair, I think the character of Fran tries to do that. And yet, the people she is with remind me of one set of people I know in Dubai. And they are a handful of empty-headed Brits and Aussies who would rather drink than do anything else. And yet I know Brits, Aussies, Americans, Indians, Arabs, Pakistanis, and Persians in the city who have endlessly enriched my life through what I've experienced in my time there.
Also, the explanations of Islam are annoyingly one-sided. For once and for all it is NOT written in the Koran that women must cover themselves. It says only that they must be modest in their dress, and the definition of modest is what changes from culture to culture and from generation to generation. I feel that Mantel never really tries to show us the rich complexity which would make the odd alienation Fran feels that much more profound, nor does she give any insight into why certain people would stay for years.
As a final note, if nothing else the book obviously works on one level, because so very many of its reviewers are responding so strongly and passionately to what lies therein. The author has done a good job of touching something for all of us.
For a richer understanding of the life of a woman in the Middle East, read Ahdaf Souief's books. She is phenomenal.
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