I loved every moment of this fascinating and original novel - though the first thing I’ll say is I’m very glad I hadn’t read it while writing my own latest book, because we share some common themes.
Those themes are a brother and sister who we first meet in older age, both of whom share exceptional childhoods, during which a tragic episode has since led to their isolation. This secret is so dangerous that it has to be hidden away from the world in a large and decaying country house; in this case a house which bears the name that gives the book it’s title.
Little Egypt has wonderful characters, not least the central narrator, Isis, who - along with her twin brother Osiris - is neglected by parents who are obsessed with the 1920’s Mummy Rush, both leaving their children for Egypt where they search for a fabled ancient tomb.
Cared for by a spinster housekeeper who offers the love their mother does not, the children more or less run wild - until also taken to Egypt by their louche and war-damaged uncle. Here the pubescent Isis suffers from the blazing heat, with wonderfully vivid descriptions of her prickly sticky sweating flesh, and of a growing awareness of sexual attraction in the midst of an almost constant dread that the guides entrusted with her care may have other ideas in mind.
This ominous sense of danger leads to a powerful climax here, when Isis faints while in a tomb where gods are painted on the walls; staring down from the ceiling above them too. This gothic, dream-like episode has serious repercussions for all. Indeed the ghosts of Egypt continue to hover over their lives when the siblings return to English soil, when increasingly macabre events lead to misery and madness.
The darkness of this novel is so elegantly countered by the often humorous later events that then occur in Isis’ life, with the grounds on which her home is set are now trapped on an island of land between a busy duel carriage way and an enormous superstore - with the owners of the latter keen to buy the house and expand yet more. It is when Spike, a young anarchist American, also enters the old woman’s life that the catalyst for change arrives - the change that may be her salvation.Superbly creepy and atmospheric. An accomplished and very enjoyable read, Little Egypt is published by Salt.
The cover ~ Perfect. A whimsical dreaming quality to fit with Isis' characterisation, whilst at the same time a background scene is dark, threatening, and oppressive.