Friday, November 19, 2010

Mistress of Abha by William Newton

Title: Mistress of Abha
Author: William Newton

Genre: Fiction (Historical)

Love/Hate?: Meh.
Rating: 2.5ish/5
Did I finish?: No, although I skipped to the end.
One-sentence summary: British colonialist is swept up in romantic reverie for the Arabia of his father's tales and follows his footsteps.

Why did I get this book?: I'm interested in the history of the Middle East.
Source: LibraryThing

Do I like the cover?: No. I mean, it is very pretty, but the novel takes place in Saudi Arabia. There is no call for a pyramid.

Did... I feel excessively grateful for the classes I took on Islamic history back in college?: YES.  There's a small map and a very brief list of major players at the beginning of the book, but hoo-boy, Newton doesn't bother explaining anything.

Did... I eventually find myself wishing my commute were shorter so I could stop reading?: YES.  When I found myself twice stopping this book with a good deal of my commute left, I decided to call a spade a spade and quit.

Review: I didn't finish this book.  I read the first 100 pages or so (120, to be exact) and the last 100 pages, and I don't think I missed anything in between.

The narration has a very odd sense to it and I can't tell if it's simply Newton's style of writing or if it's an attempt at giving the narrator, Ivor Willoughby, some personality.  The story is first person but Willoughby constantly comments on his own story.  If he says something odd to another character, he observes it; if he does something strange, he points it out.  It's slightly clunky but grows familiar as one reads on, and I found it vaguely endearing -- until it grew tiresome.  

I think the intent is for this to be a kind of epic saga -- son searching for his father - but I found it awkward and clunky and slow.  There's a lot of politics and a lot of skirmishes but the narration and storyline just bored me to no end.  And, ultimately, the story at it's root was just so unappealing to me.  I'm not a huge fan of infidelity especially when it's part of the hero's grand romance; that, coupled with the very disturbing exoticization of the slaves, concubines, and other women in this book, left me feeling pretty gross.  I'm all for a good cross-cultural romance, but when a married English officer takes on a second wife because he's all Arab 'at heart' and hates his life back in England, I find that selfish, not romantic.  The narrator is very pro-Empire and colonialisation, which is accurate for the setting of the story (pre WWII, post-Lawrence of Arabia), but as a result, it's a mixture of white man's burden and the noble savage motif.  It also feels a bit like cheap shorthand to create an epic quality to this story.  In the end, the awkward style kept me from being fully pulled in and what I did absorb turned me off.


  1. Thanks for this review. I bought the novel a while back (haven't read it yet) and didn't realize the cover was so inaccurate!

  2. @Sarah -- I look forward to your review. I was so excited about this book! Re: the cover - the narrator is in Cairo for a few pages toward the beginning of the story, but it has nothing to do with the plot. I imagine there are so many photos of the Red Sea coast from the era, I don't know why Bloomsbury didn't go with that!

  3. Your review was more interesting than the ones I read usually - because of those "DID" lines, I guess :)
    I wouldn't read this book, though. I don't think it would keep my attention and interest.

  4. Great honest review, this is something I would skip I think.
    Oh and the pyramid, come one, why did they put it there of it does not take place in Egypt. Did they even read the book

  5. @Blodeuedd: Exactly! It doesn't exactly inspire confidence!

    @xlacrimax: Sadly, I can't recommend it -- I think any interesting story is weighed down by the v clunky style!

  6. LOL! I originally saw the cover and thought it looked really nice, and then I saw your explanation about Saudi and said, wow, they really just threw a steretyped "Middle East" cover on there...

  7. Thanks for the honest review. Will probably have to skip reading this one...:)

  8. Thanks for the review, I think I'll pass this one.

  9. This looks very interesting. I'm more interested in the history of North Africa but the all of the middle-east is intriguing.

  10. Very nice to meet you at the ball Anne Fareweather.

  11. Hi!
    This was a great. What a shame about the cover. If they can't make an effort to do it correctly, why should I make an effort to read it?
    Don't think I'll be reading, not that I like to read historical books. I like to watch historical documentaries instead:)

    I enjoyed meeting you at the Pemberley Ball!

    Araminta Lovelace

  12. Oh hello Dear Miss Fairweather,

    It was lovely to make your acquaintance at the Pemberley Ball!

    I hope to see you again this time again next year.

    Until then, wishing you all the best.

    Yours sincerely,

    Lady Katerina Rose Beresford

  13. Miss Fairweather, Very nice to make your acquaintance at the Pemberley Ball. I do hope to continue our acquaintance in the future.

    Miss Calliope Cathwood
    aka Jennifer Becton, author of Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

  14. wow... kind of doesn't say much about the book that you were able to skip so much and not feel like you missed anything, LOL.

  15. Thanks for the review! Too bad you weren't a fan of this one!

  16. It's not really my kind of book , and it appears it's not yours either..ha ha

  17. Awesome review. It's a shame you didn't like it, though, since it sounds pretty good! I'll take your word for it though; not a book I'll be picking up. :P