With remarkable understatement, a fellow airline passenger tries to prepare Fran Shore for her life as an expatriate wife in Saudi Arabia. A cartographer by profession, she is told, "You're redundant. They don't have maps." As Mantel unfolds the action, and lack of action, which take place in the apartment complex and in the business community, Fran cannot help but try to create mental maps, to make sense of the culture that has enveloped her.
Bored and frustrated, she is unable to discover what is really happening in the "empty" flat upstairs, unable to understand the lives which her devoutly Muslim female neighbors accept as completely normal, and so overwhelmed that she wonders, "Am I visible?" And that, perhaps, is the point. She IS visible in a heavily veiled world, destined never to comprehend fully either the daily lives or culture of her hosts, a culture within which she has tried, unsuccessfully, to maintain her own values.
The ending of the novel is full of mystery, as much a mystery as the events Fran has encountered in the eight months she has spent on Ghazzah Street. She is forced to accept at last the comment of an Arab acquaintance, "The Kindgom is not a logical world, and besides, logic is not an ornament of young ladies." Mary Whipple