SMC Review: Little Egypt by @lesleyglaister from @saltpublishing

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As part of my resolution to try new things, write new things and read new things in 2014, I took the big plunge this year and got both feet stuck into Twitter. It’s fast becoming a place I pay more attention to than facebook, as I’ve stuffed my feed to the brim with publishers, authors, poets, writers, journalists, small printing presses, journals and literary magazines. It’s lovely. Everytime I check in I find about new opportunities for submitting, literary debates raging, people getting cross about things which actually matter, books coming out and being reviewed and publicised and the chance to get involve in lovely arty campaigns. I should have been here years ago, but I was terrified of getting sucked in to vacuous celebrity gossip shit. If I’d known it was this easy to pick and choose, I’d have been here years ago. Never mind. Better fashionably late to the party than forever lurking outside the door.

One of the presses I started following were Salt Modern Fiction. Their big recommendation for reading in the run up to Easter was Little Egypt by Lesley Glaister. I didn’t know the author, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for but for that reason I decided to feel the fear and do it anyway, and downloaded the Kindle copy. I do sometimes find it scary reading new books. Not least because my disposable income is not especially large, but even I could find 99p for a new and recommended book.

I’m glad I did, because I was immediately engrossed. The premise was different to almost anything else I’d encountered, (except perhaps for The Pitchfork Disney) . Little Egypt tells the story of twin sister and brother, born to obsessive Egyptologist parents, who spend the vast majority of their children’s adolescence chasing archaeological discovery in Egypt during the 1920s, leaving them at home to be raised in England in genteel poverty. The obsession with Ancient Egypt is shared by the one of the twins, Osiris, who has becoming engrossed in the death culture of Egypt as a child. Isis, however, rejects the family passion and is on a permanent quest for love and affection, something which is in startlingly short supply in her life.

The narrative flows back and forth between Isis and Osiris surviving their dysfunctional childhood, raised by a housekeeper called Mary with occasional visits from their uncle Victor, who is still traumatised by the first world war, and Isis’s experience of life as an elderly woman, which resembles nothing more than a dry tapestry of existence, from which she wrings every drop of possible joy. The determination of Isis to look on the bright side of her confusing and disjointed life, always hungry for any scraps of love and affection, makes her an appealing and engaging character.

Her friendship with dumpster-diver Spike leads to some modern light and air finally penetrating the boundaries of ‘Little Egypt’, the house she has spent her entire life in, guarding a terrible secret which threatens both her and her increasingly odd and distant brother Osiris, who has lived in the upstairs rooms and hasn’t been seen even by Isis for many years. As the story unfolds, switching between Isis’s first person accounts and third person descriptions of the events which lead to her becoming trapped at Little Egypt, the full scope of the horrors experienced by Osiris and Isis grip the reader and drag them into the novel faster than quicksand. 

As I followed Isis growing up and saw her longing to break free, as her life became twisted and shattered, I felt gripped with the same compulsion of watching an inevitable and unavoidable train wreck. It’s been years since I set my alarm clock early so that I could get up and read the final chunk of this book before going to work one morning, but this book demanded that I finish it. Glaister engages all of the senses with her portrayal of two very different deserts, both the lonely house of Little Egypt and the vast deserts of 1920s Egypt, which for Isis are both filled with extremes of temperature, confusion, isolation, loneliness and boredom, not to mention her own anger, abandonment issues and insatiable longing for love and affection.   

This was my first experience of reading Lesley Glaister, I am certain it will not be my last.

Purchase Little Egypt from Amazon

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