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Eight Months on Ghazzah Street: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 2003
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Strange book but you learn a bit about the Arab culture and treatment of women and behavior. The book dragged a bit. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
Saudi Arabia was a very dull place for an English woman, in particular Frances Shore the protagonist; this presented Mantel a challenge, especially as she did not rely on... Read morePublished 4 months ago by algo41
I havent read the book but I have lived in Qatar where I taught biology to nursing students for three years. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Lewis Dodgson
This is a truly frightening account of life in the Middle East for a western woman, not to mention an accepted life for the majority of Moslem women. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Edward Wormuth
The story was not what I was expecting ! It had a few plot twists but overall it wasn't a great read.Published 9 months ago by Karen Lewis
A delightful Hilary Mantel discovery. A young wife is sent to join her husband at his job in Saudi Arabia. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Anne-Marie
This is an excellent story of life in Saudi Arabia for an ex pat woman and her husband. The repression of the public , not just women , is detailed. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Capt Carl