Why a booktrail?
If you’ve ever wanted to feel as you’re standing beside an iconic figure in history as he makes that history, then how about meeting Harold Carter and being one of the first into the tomb of Tutankhamun ?
Story in a nutshell
Lucy is only eleven when she is sent abroad to recover from the typhoid which has killed her mother. She travels to Egypt. It is 1922 and a certain young man – Howard Carter -is also in Egypt. He is an archaeologist on an obsessive hunt for the one tomb that has not yet been discovered – Tutankhamun.
There she meets a young girl whose father is an archaeologist and their lives are transformed as they become not only close friends but ultimately fascinated with what is going on around them. The Valley of the Kings is their playground in more ways than one.
As the search for Tutankhamun continues apace, it is not just what is buried within the tomb that looks set to spill out and cause unforeseen consequences….
Place and setting
“We had now crossed the Nile; the towers and minarets, the jasmine and sewage scents of the city were behind us. Far in the distance I heard the rumble of a tram, the cough of a car engine. The dark of the desert enveloped us: I breathed in its antiseptic air.”
If it’s evocative writing you’re after and a chance to walk into the humidity and dryness of the Valley of the Kings at perhaps one of the most historic moments in Egyptian archaeology, then Sally Beauman gives you that chance.
She not only takes you there but plunges you straight into the hustle and bustle and excitement of the times. From the viewpoint of a young girl in a strange and forbidden land comes the adventure of a lifetime but this is a young girl who goes to Egypt, returns to her home Cambridge and a holiday in Hampshire before returning to the Valley of the Kings when the great discovery comes to a head.
The awe and amazement from an 11 year old girl is a good way of seeing how her life becomes intertwined with the fortunes of Egypt. When we meet 90 year old Lucy looking back on what it all meant, we see how power, greed and manipulation showed up the social and political mores of the time in Colonial Britain.
“Memories don’t survive unless they’re recorded.” And besides who’s to say what’s memory and what’s myth?”
Historical fact is interwoven seamlessly with historical fiction. Lord Carnarvon for example who lives in HighClere Castle in Hampshire (Downton Abbey fame) was the man who financed and supported much of what Howard Carter was able to do. Together with Harold, the two men are passionate about finding the tomb, a passion which soon leads to dangerous obsession..
The Valley of the Kings – the detail and devotion shown by the author shines from the page –
‘The long awaited, much anticipated opening of the iner chamber to Tutankhamun’s tomb too place three days later on Friday 16th February 1923.
If I shut my eyes now I can hear it still, echoing down the decades; the crying out that told me that Carter and Carnarvon had finally found their tomb
At the same time, the consequences of this discovery, what happened next, who kept the spoils and how the ‘toxicity of tourism’ helped to destroy the very reason the Valley and its treasures were so spell binding at the height of their glory.
What a find! This takes you to such an historic moment in time that even if you have no interest in Egyptian history as such, then you will still be utterly amazed. Absolutely loved this adventure in the hot and humid Valley of the Kings!
The writing was immersive and detailed and took me right to the heat and humidity of the desert. The sections where Lucy was 90 and indeed the first section of the novel seemed slow in comparison to the rest of it but maybe that was just my impatience to find out more about the heart of the action so to speak. Seeing the lead up to this and the effects on Lucy’s young life was interwoven with care so that when you find out about the consequences of everything that went on there, you care as you’ve known them from the beginning. Lucy did seem older than her 11 years at times but it didn’t distract from the story. The characters (several so there is a list at the start of the book) gave a full and broad display of colonial attitudes and political upheaval.
But Lucy and Frances are at the heart of the story and it is their life and their experiences that were fascinating to read. Lucy feels lost, scared and overcome. Her life is one of secrets and betrayals and finally at the age of 90, she is able to let out what she has kept hidden for years.
Sally has done amazingly well not to let the historical fact override the story and characters in the novel. Yet historical notes do add to the overall enjoyment of the novel – what happened to the treasure found in the tomb, the infamous curse and the fate of those who ventured inside are examined as part of the overall story. It illuminates just what tourism and ultimately greed can do to our planet and our history.
A long book yes but when you close the cover after finishing, feeling hot, sticky and still fully immersed in your Egyptian experience….you will feel as if you really have witnessed a magical moment in the Valley of the Kings…