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Eight Months on Ghazzah Street

Hilary Mantel

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To purchase Eight Months on Ghazzah Street

Title: Eight Months on Ghazzah Street
Author: Hilary Mantel
Genre: Novel
Written: 1988
Length: 278 pages
Availability: Eight Months on Ghazzah Street - US
Eight Months on Ghazzah Street - UK
Eight Months on Ghazzah Street - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : clever evocation of Saudi Arabian life

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times A 14/9/1997 Charlotte Innes
The NY Rev. of Books . 23/10/2003 Joyce Carol Oates
The NY Times Book Rev. A 20/7/1997 Francine Prose
San Francisco Chronicle . 27/7/1997 Abbas Milani
The Spectator B+ 14/5/1988 Anita Brookner
Wall St. Journal A 24/9/1997 Merle Rubin

  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though all Mantel's novels illumine societal evils -- be it the British class system in An Experiment in Love, the malevolent interplay between personality and public events in A Place of Greater Safety or colonialism in A Change of Climate -- Eight Months on Ghazzah Street is perhaps Mantel's most overtly political work. Her outrage against a society that virtually imprisons women, mutilates thieves, stones adulterers and disappears over-curious intruders is palpable." - Charlotte Innes, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Eight Months on Ghazzah Street is also a very funny dark comedy of manners." - Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books

  • "Mantel writes with a jaunty, wry panache and a scientific precision that can capture a character or a mood and offer it up, impaled and squirming, like a bug on a pin." - Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) bold, searingly honest and uncompromising novel (originally published in England in 1988) about the havoc Saudi Arabian apartheid wreaks on women in the oil-rich desert kingdom." - Abbas Milani, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The stoical Frances, not quite the naive protagonist who usually features in fictions of this type, gives little away; even her diary is uninteresting. Everything is withheld. This tightness of control is perhaps the novel's eeriest feature." - Anita Brookner, The Spectator

  • "Eight Months on Ghazzah Street is a tautly written tale of suspense that makes brilliant use of monotony and claustrophobia to heighten the heroine's growing sense of danger." - Merle Rubin, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Hilary Mantel lived in Saudi Arabia for four years, and her familiarity with the place is clear from this novel, set in Jeddah. Eight Months on Ghazzah Street centers on the Shores -- Andrew, an engineer who came for the money to be made there, and his wife, Frances, who joins him. They live on Ghazzah Street -- "which got its name quite recently when street names came into vogue".
       Frances is a cartographer, but she can not get her bearings in this strange land. The place even literally defies being grasped:

At the moment Ghazzah Street is about a mile and a half from the Red Sea, but in this place land and sea are in flux, they are negotiable.
       As a woman Frances is extremely limited in what she can do. She can hardly go out of her house -- and when she does there is hardly anywhere to go. There are other expatriates -- Americans and Brits -- who form a sort of social circle to move in, but they are all numbed by the place.
       The apartment building on Ghazzah Street offers some diversion -- and some mystery, as there are sounds coming from a supposedly empty apartment.
       Mantel carefully builds up the story, horror replacing the stifling boredom of the place as she progresses. Excerpts from Frances' diary are effectively interspersed in the text. The tension slowly rises, to the mysterious end.
       Mantel evokes Saudi life marvelously. Much of the novel speaks about the treatment of women, using a variety of examples -- Frances, native Saudi women, and others -- and the central mystery also revolves around this issue. As many people -- Americans in particular -- politely ignore the outrageous treatment of women in Saudi Arabia such revealing descriptions are welcome wake-up calls. (If human rights were in fact an influential factor in Western nations' foreign policy then Saudi Arabia would be considered a contemptible pariah. In terms of human rights (as seen, admittedly, from a "Western" point of view) it is at the absolute bottom of the barrel, far below relatively enlightened states such as Iran. Only Afghanistan is markedly worse.)
       The reason Saudi Arabia is tolerated in the international community is that it is wealthy and produces a vital commodity. It is also the reason why people flock to work there, as Mantel shows. Mantel paints the varied expat communities (and the ugly corporations that do business there) very well, her opprobrium doled out equally to natives and foreigners alike.
       A very good -- though not always pleasant -- book, of an ugly and too-little known world, and with a decent story as well.

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Eight Months on Ghazzah Street: Reviews: Hilary Mantel: Other books by Hilary Mantel under Review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       English author Hilary Mantel was born in 1952. Author of several highly praised novels, she won the Hawthornden Prize in 1996.

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