Publishing year: 2016
This new novel moves back and forth in time, which is something I love.
The first chapter takes place in October 1939 just after the war has been declared. We get to know Joan Seabrook, a little girl, and her thoughts is about her father, David, and her uncle’s visit. Joan thinks that the visit has shaken her father, and that is why he hasn’t told her and her young brother Daniel any stories in the last few days. Joan says that her uncle Godfrey is a rich man, and I have the impression that there was some kind of fall out between the brothers. Maybe David’s family didn’t approve of the woman he had chosen for his wife. In this chapter we get the impression that Joan is very close to her father, and it is David’s favourite book, The One Thousand and One Nights, which makes Joan love Arabia and she dreams of going there one day.
The novel moves forward, and it is 1958. Joan is twenty-seven. Her father died a few months ago, and now she and her fiancé Rory have travelled to Oman. Joan has studied archaeology, and she hoped she could do some exploring. This is one the reasons why she has travelled to Oman, and the second reason is to see her brother Daniel, who has been stationed in the country. He is an army man, and now that Oman is in war, he has been sent there. There is a third reason why Joan is excited about the trip. She is to meet her hero, a woman called Maude Vickery, who is now in her seventies but in her youth used to be an explorer and managed to reach an area where only one more man had been able to get. Maude is quite cold towards Joan, and the girl is disappointed after that first visit, but then she is asked to return, and Joan visits Maud every day and they talk about everything. I find this relationship very endearing, and I think both women are learning from each other. I think Joan is too naive and needs a more mature perspective of the world, and Maud seems quite disappointed with life and needs some of the eagerness Joan oozes.
Joan is also disappointed when she finally gets to visit her brother and the colonel there tells her that it is impossible for her to explore that she intended to go to because it is dangerous as there is a war going on. When she tells Maude, she tells her that nothing should stop her from getting what she wants, but how can she tell Joan that? This is a case in which getting to do her dreams is beyond her grasp. I wonder whether Joan will do something silly and ignore what her brother and everybody else tell her.
One of the most intriguing points in the novel is about Daniel, her brother, and Rory, her fiancé. I think there is something strange going on with Rory. He and Joan have been engaged for two years, but there hasn’t been any talk to set a date for the wedding, and Joan is getting restless. When she questions Rory, he tells her that they had decided to wait after her father’s death, and they still need to save for the house they want to buy. Joan muses he is right. I also find it strange how he has no embarrassment to appear naked before Joan and there is no hint that he has to restrain from seducing her whereas she is the one who seems to restrain her desire.
Then there is Daniel. Joan knows that something happened between him and their mother when he was on compassionate leave after their father passed away. Daniel came out of his mother’s room with pink eyes, showing he had been crying, and he left before his leave was over, and then he didn’t come on his next leave. So now when Joan sees him, he asks him to go and see their mum on his next leave. During that visit to Daniel, Joan overhears Rory and Daniel as if they were having a row, and when she asks Rory, he fobs her off. I have the suspicion that Rory and Daniel are homosexuals who are or were having a relationship. We know that they have been best friends since they were in boarding school, and since they have been inseparable. I think they have to keep their relationship quiet, but I find it hard to believe that Daniel would let Rory deceive his sister just to protect himself from prejudice. Is this the reason why Daniel and his mother rowed? Did he confess his true feelings?
Apart from the events in 1958, the story also takes us to 1890 when Maude is an eight-year-old girl. She lives with her mother, whose life she finds soporific as she keeps all day doing needlepoint. Her two older brothers are in boarding school, and that day in 1890 she is excited as they are coming home. Trying to look indifferent, she goes to find something to read so that her brothers don’t think she has been looking forward to their arrival. She goes to the library and finds a journal about Oman that grabs her attention so much that he almost forgets about her brothers. When she hears the door, she hopes that they will try to find her, so she feels hurt and disappointed when her brothers don’t try to get her. Their friend Nathaniel, who sometimes stays with them, who finds her, and they talk about being explorers. We know that Nathaniel was the explorer who beat Maude in being the first to get to Fort Jabrin. When Joan talks to Maude about Nathaniel, Maude mentions she hasn’t talked to him in fifty years, and I think there is a story of rivalry and possibly even lost love there.
Very interesting start. I am already hooked!!!