Eight Months in Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel
This months book club read was chosen by one of our dear members. I was really interested in the choice as I had heard so much about Hilary Mantel and knew that Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies were mega popular (but a bit big for a one-month turnaround for book club, so grateful for that they weren’t recommended!)
I managed to get myself one of the original prints by Penguin which I enjoyed for its vintage look and small size. Insole Court managed to get in a lovely looking version for the shop, and we spent a good few minutes at the start of the meeting having a chuckle about one print that exists which has the most irrelevant stock-photo image on the front that I have ever seen.
Eight Months was first published in 1986, pre-Wolf Hall, and is a reflection of the few years that Mantel spent living in Saudi Arabia. I mention this to give some context to some later comments! As always, feel free to comment below, and get involved.
Struggled to get through it. Surprised by the quote on the book ‘horrifyingly gripping’.
Took a while to get going.
Mantel comes across as racist, not just the characters. Uncomfortable.
Expected a big revelation about how similar we all are really, but no.
Maybe more of a lack of understanding. ‘Back to the real world’ Western is right.
Too easy to say that she was expressing common viewpoints from that era, maybe it would be address more directly if it was written now?
Not sure what happened at the end? Felt a little bit rushed. Preconceptions proven right?
What happened on the balcony??!! Was it all just her paranoia?
What happens in Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw for a reviewer to make this comparison? (None of us had read it!)
Some of us enjoyed the descriptions of the apartment block and the surrounding area and felt she built tension well, particularly the description of the tiles watching. Others could have done without it.
Directionless – is it a psycho thriller or a murder mystery?
One member decided to google real-life stories from Saudi to compare.
‘I’m not a racist, I’m a xenophobe’. Double standards. She doesn’t like anyone.
Chasing the money – criticism of expat lifestyle. Giving up the little things in life for the paycheck. Going for one year, staying for longer.
Francis formed her opinion of Saudi on the plane. Not that well-informed.
Irony of someone getting lost with a map she’d created as a cartographer. Only real time that her career is really mentioned.
We all thought that the Fairfax bit got interesting. Felt like things were going to start connecting.
We discussed the similarities to Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies to compare. Style is similar, lots of attention to detail. Measured. But had a much stronger plot. Is it because she was following the historical events?
It reminded one member of the film, Lost in Translation.
Lack of distinction in any of the other characters. Struggled to distinguish one expat man from another, and the same with the expat women and Saudi couples. Very 2D.
What about the burglary? Was it just to highlight how important home-made wine was to them?
No point to the different formats, eg diary, letter.
Some found it interesting to read about Saudi Arabia in the 1980’s. Some were able to compare it to what they had heard about people living ‘compound life’ in South Africa.
Blurb made it sound good. But one member found it quite miserable and depressing.
We thought that her isolation and how insular she became was interesting. The atmosphere that was created. Quite a poetic style at times.
‘Travel narrowing the mind’. Francis is testament to it. Self-aware. Quite witty in some ways.
Different editing might have improved it.
The memo at the start, we assumed was pre-action. If there had been names mentioned or more obvious hints, we would have paid more attention to it.
- Hilary Mantel on the Reith Lectures, BBC Radio 4
- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
- Wolf Hall & Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
So there you go. Not an overwhelmingly positive response to Eight Months on Ghazzah Street but a lot to talk about! Next months book club meeting (Tuesday 25th June) will be hosted by Natasha Wilson as I am off to a wedding! She’ll be chairing the discussion on Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox which is available now in the Insole Court Visitors Centre or widely available online.
I’m off to Hay Festival tomorrow for the first time so no doubt I’ll post some over-excited photos on Instagram @offbeatbookclub. I’m trying to limit myself to two new books but we’ll see. That’s probably not realistic…
Enjoy your weekend!