From the two-time Man Booker Prize winner author of Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror & the Light, a prescient and haunting novel of life in Saudi Arabia.
Frances Shore is a cartographer by trade, a maker of maps, but when her husband's work takes her to Saudi Arabia she finds herself unable to map the Kingdom's areas of internal darkness. The regime is corrupt and harsh, the expatriates are hard-drinking money-grubbers, and her Muslim neighbours are secretive, watchful. The streets are not a woman's territory; confined in her flat, she finds her sense of self begin to dissolve. She hears whispers, sounds of distress from the 'empty' flat above her head. She has only rumours, no facts to hang on to, and no one with whom to share her creeping unease. As her days empty of certainty and purpose, her life becomes a blank – waiting to be filled by violence and disaster.
‘Horrifyingly gripping. It urges the reader to suspend normal life entirely until the book is read.' Grace Ingoldby, Sunday Times
'A peculiar fear emanates from this narrative: I dread to think what it did to the writer herself.' Anita Brookner, Spectator
'A Middle Eastern Turn of the Screw with an insidious power to grip.' Robert Irwin, Time Out
'A memorably appalled and hellishly funny novel.' Christopher Wordsworth, Guardian
'A stunning Orwellian nightmare.' Literary Review
About the author
Hilary Mantel is the author of fifteen books, including A PLACE OF GREATER SAFETY, BEYOND BLACK, the memoir GIVING UP THE GHOST, and the short-story collection THE ASSASSINATION OF MARGARET THATCHER. Her two most recent novels, WOLF HALL and its sequel BRING UP THE BODIES, have both been awarded the Man Booker Prize.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Hilary Mantel’s Inside Story: “My third novel, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, came out of my time in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where my geologist husband worked for four years. I located my heroine Frances Shore in a block of four flats, copying the layout of our own. On the ground floor Frances lives with her engineer husband. Across the hall are a sophisticated and worldly couple from Pakistan. Upstairs, one unit houses a hard-line Saudi official and his naive, 19-year-old wife. The fourth flat is empty; but who walks about up there, overheard during silent and solitary days? It would be impossible to imagine that setting without direct experience. At my small-hours arrival on an incoming flight, I was reaching for my notebook before I had gone through customs. Reporters come and go, but I was rooted. I took my chance to record the bizarre events of daily life in a theocracy. My imagination was ahead of the facts in picturing how the Kingdom deals with its enemies."
Set in Saudi Arabia during the boom created by soaring oil prices in the 1980s, this sinuously crafted tale by Hawthorndon Award winner Mantel (for An Experiment in Love) uses the outsider status of a British woman and the minutiae of her daily life to mask and eventually reveal a chilling situation. Mantel builds a sense of disorientation, claustrophobia and paranoia in rendering the abysmal quotidian existence of Frances Shore. A cartographer, Frances has followed her civil engineer husband, Andrew, to the Red Sea port Jidda, where he is engaged in a lucrative construction project. Shunning the expatriate housing compound, the Shores move into a grim four-flat building on Ghazzah Street. Shut out from practicing her profession by the severe, ultra-sexist legal code of Saudi Islam, Frances writes in a journal and observes a domestic scene that comes to seem more and more ominous as she struggles to define the ever-shifting line between private morality and public order. A nonperson in the Muslim world, Frances is unable to break through a wall of prejudice about Westerners to come to a common understanding with her neighbors. She becomes hyperconscious of suspicious goings-on in their building, including a shadowy figure carrying a gun in the hallway. This story of a place where puzzles are "more apparent than real" ends provocatively with more questions than answers. Mantel's relentless pounding away at Frances's stultifying life offers a bit of misdirection, enabling the mystery to sneak towards its conclusion with disconcerting stealth. With marvelously understated wit, Mantel chronicles a world of teas and dinner parties that eventually coalesce into a sinister story of horror just beyond a veil. FYI: Mantel was only the third woman to win the Hawthorndon award in its 80-year history.