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The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer

The Twelve Rooms of the Nile (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Enid Shomer

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1125107,804 (3.6)5
Title:The Twelve Rooms of the Nile
Authors:Enid Shomer
Info:Simon & Schuster (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 464 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer (2012)


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He crawled across the space between them and rested his head against her shoulder. Philae held them in its silted-up silence. Barely touching her for fear she’d collapse under the weight of an embrace or move away again, he encircled her with his arms. “I am waiting for the muse to visit me,” he managed to whisper, “just as you are waiting for God to speak to you again.” Were they not both self-made pariahs? He felt himself in complete sympathy with her, as if they had mingled their blood in the purity and innocence of childhood.

Part love story, part historical adventure, Enid Shomer’s The Twelve Rooms of the Nile is a fun jaunt back into the Egypt of the mid 1800’s, only just beginning to be appreciated and explored by adventurous Europeans. The tale follows Florence Nightingale, during her pre-Crimean War years, and French writer Gustave Flaubert, as they separately travel the Nile by boat. Both actually did take such trips during their lifetimes—and indeed, even at the same time—though they never actually met, as far as history records. But Ms. Shomer has imagined an alternate, enthralling world—where they do.

The Florence she imagines for us is one who hungers to do some great humanitarian work and leave her mark on the world, but is hampered by the conventions of her Victorian culture, a culture whose foremost watchdog is Florence’s own mother. Prim and proper, but longing to be free, Florence strains against the stays of her society, and briefly escapes the constrictures of her family with two doting friends who agree to chaperone the Egyptian excursion. Gustave, tormented by his companions’ dismissal of his first novel (and not yet the writer who will one day write Madame Bovary), is in Egypt to gather impressions, both in the literal sense, as he makes ‘squeezes’ of hieroglyphs, and in the artistic sense, as he records with his highly attuned, hedonistic perceptions, the pleasures and realities life in Egypt offers.

Shomer, a poet with several published collections, writes with unerring skill, capturing with vivid prose both the characters inner lives, and the exotic world they travel through. And unlike some poets who attempt fiction, she at no time wanders astray into self-indulgent passages that have no bearing on the story being told; while the language is evocative and at times transportive, it at all times serves the tale, making this novel a delight.

This writer’s strengths: Language, obviously, being a poet, but she also possesses a good imagination, and doesn’t back off from an almost brutal honesty when depicting her characters inner lives. There are some graphic sexual scenes in this novel—it is about Flaubert, after all, and he did die of (probably) complications of syphilis; or ‘the pox’ (which was something of a scourge among Europeans of the time). But they are written with such apparent honesty, that even the luridness of the brothel visits feels necessary.

Who will enjoy this book: The novel was clearly deeply researched, so history buffs of the time, or anyone curious about either of the main characters lives (and if you’re not, you will be, after reading this book), those who enjoy tales of Egypt, especially during the 1800s. Readers who enjoy deeply investigated flawed and believable characters. Readers who enjoy literary writing and a well-turned phrase combined with an adventurous tale.

The Twelve Rooms of the Nile is 445 pages. I did not note any editing errors. It was published in 2012 by Simon & Schustler.

I highly recommend it.
( )
  CynthiaRobertson | Apr 1, 2014 |
Shomer provides fascinating insight in the Nightingale and Flaubert, and is no less dazzling in her descriptions of the culture, food, clothing and traditions of the different people and guides the parties encounter on their sojourn on the Nile. Each of her sentences is imbued with intellectualism, history, philosophy snappy repartee and fascinating historical tidbits. Shomer’s thorough research is stunning, and sometimes daunting even as she creates a plausible connection between Nightingale and Flaubert. My only complaint with this beautifully written and compelling debut is the intensity of the narrative, which felt overwhelmingly packed at times. Recommended. ( )
  daniellnic | Sep 25, 2013 |
I didn't like it for most of the book - nothing happened until page 150! and again for many more pages...but when I got to the end, I liked it very much. It seems to me that Shomer is writing about the mystery of having a true calling -- which both Florence Nightingale and Gutave Flaubert did. No matter where it comes from, or the person called, comes from, it will assert itself. This reminds me of the book, Code of the Soul, which explains all this. The book is descriptive, and surprising, and does succeed in bringing to light the advantages and the drawbacks of wealth which makes exotic travel possible, but can cut one off from great satisfactions of serving and honest work as well. The discrepancies of the Victorian mind and culture are very much in evidence in this book. And it will be a hard one to forget. So although for the greater part of it, I can't say I enjoyed reading it, I'm glad I did, and have to give it four stars. ( )
  MarthaHuntley | Apr 2, 2013 |
Interesting read. Amazing to put such different people together.
  shazjhb | Sep 27, 2012 |
I finished this a couple of days ago but I really=y needed to think before I wrote a review. I loved her writing, elegant and lush, especially when talking about the scenery, which was beautiful. Loved the history behind this, she actually used letters and journals from both of these well known people. Both are at loose ends and feel like they are not getting on with their lives the way they have envisioned them, Flaubert has written his first novel but his friends tell him it terrible and will never be published, Florence's family despaired over her continuing projects to help the unfortunate, wanting her to learn embroidery and get a husband. I was particularly drawn to the parts that featured Miss Nightingale, not as attracted to those featuring Flaubert. It is fact that they were both traveling the Nile at the same time, but this very inventive author imagines a friendship between the two, one bordering on near intimacy. This I had a bit of a problem with, but that may be simply because I knew it to be not true. That the author makes the reader think it could have been possible is all to her credit. Anyway I did love reading about these two well known people and have always loved reading about the culture and history of Egypt. ( )
  Beamis12 | Aug 9, 2012 |
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Book description
Before she became the nineteenth century’s greatest heroine, before he had written a word of Madame Bovary, Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert traveled down the Nile at the same time. In the imaginative leap taken by award-winning writer Enid Shomer’s The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, the two ignite a passionate friendship marked by intelligence, humor, and a ravishing tenderness that will alter both their destinies.

In 1850, Florence, daughter of a prominent English family, sets sail on the Nile chaperoned by longtime family friends and her maid, Trout. To her family’s chagrin—and in spite of her wealth, charm, and beauty—she is, at twenty-nine and of her own volition, well on her way to spinsterhood. Meanwhile, Gustave and his good friend Maxime Du Camp embark on an expedition to document the then largely unexplored monuments of ancient Egypt. Traumatized by the deaths of his father and sister, and plagued by mysterious seizures, Flaubert has dropped out of law school and writ-ten his first novel, an effort promptly deemed unpublishable by his closest friends. At twenty-eight, he is an unproven writer with a failing body.

Florence is a woman with radical ideas about society and God, naive in the ways of men. Gustave is a notorious womanizer and patron of innumerable prostitutes. But both burn with unfulfilled ambition, and in the deft hands of Shomer, whose writing The New York Times Book Review has praised as “beautifully cadenced, and surprising in its imaginative reach,” the unlikely soul mates come together to share their darkest torments and most fervent hopes. Brimming with adventure and the sparkling sensibilities of the two travelers, this mesmerizing novel offers a luminous combination of gorgeous prose and wild imagination, all of it colored by the opulent tapestry of mid-nineteenth-century Egypt.
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A tale inspired by their 1850 journey up the Nile imagines shared encounters between Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert, during which they overcame considerable differences to forge a bond of intelligence, humor, and passion.

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