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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tensions in the Gulf
The Gulf of the title symbolizes many aspects of this novel:

1. The location of the novel is in a Gulf emirate of Hawar, where the author, according to the acknowledgments, has spent much time. (A niggle: Hawar is a real place, but aspects of it - together with its politicians - appear to have been to some extent invented: according to Google, it is not an...
Published on 5 April 2009 by Ralph Blumenau

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Started well but faded badly
I enjoyed the first third of this book but became quite irritated as it went on. The early descriptions of life as an ex-pat in a small Gulf State are interesting but then the author falls between several stools. There is her input on life in the Middle East as a mid-forties single mother of three sons with a possible war looming and then her description of what it is...
Published on 25 Sep 2009 by Jill Besterman


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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tensions in the Gulf, 5 April 2009
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Gulf Between Us (Paperback)
The Gulf of the title symbolizes many aspects of this novel:

1. The location of the novel is in a Gulf emirate of Hawar, where the author, according to the acknowledgments, has spent much time. (A niggle: Hawar is a real place, but aspects of it - together with its politicians - appear to have been to some extent invented: according to Google, it is not an independent emirate, but a part of what had been the emirate of Bahrein, which had became a kingdom in 2002. A reference to the Bali bombing locates the setting round about October 2002, just before the beginning of the Iraq War in March 2003. I wish she had given the place another name. More googling suggests that the names she gives to some parts of Hawar may have been taken from places in Oman, North Yemen, Abu Dhabi and even Pakistan. Disconcerting.)

2. There is a gulf between the British expatriate characters in the book and the Hawaris, accentuated by the imminence of the war which was so widely expected. The narrator of the novel, the widowed Annie Lester, generally likes the Hawaris (except one or two of them) and realizes, both temperamentally and also from a practical point of view, that the expatriates should respect their culture.

3. There is a gulf between Annie and her brother and sister-in-law, who are visitors from England, and whose tactless and dismissive comments about Arabs set Annie's teeth on edge. Her brother Chris is a thoroughly unpleasant representative of colonial arrogance and bigotry - a rare type among his age group by 2002, I should think. (Annie seems to be in her forties.)

4. The central part of the story is about the gulf between homosexuals and heterosexuals. One of Annie's three sons, who is about 18, 'comes out' fairly early on in the book; and Annie, who had had no idea, finds it difficult but does her best to accept it - unlike her bewildered elderly father for whom, initially at least, this is quite beyond the pale; and you can rely on Chris and his wife Karen to be interfering and censorious. Other expatriates in that small community gossip about it and make lots of remarks which grate on Annie, so there is a gulf here, too. Besides, homosexuality, though apparently widely practised in Hawar, is illegal there, and a militant Shia cleric in the emirate is becoming increasingly influential. And when it emerges that Crown Prince is gay, the issue becomes explosive. (The suggestion that a member of the royal family, however fictional, could be gay - plus not least the suggestion that the non-fictional Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of Oman, IS gay - caused the organizers of the Dubai Literary Festival to withdraw its display, and it was subsequently banned throughout the United Arab Emirates. Geraldine Bedell's outrage at this - whatever one thinks about censorship - is surely somewhat disingenuous: her heroine would have been far too tactful to offend local sensitivities in this way.)

5. A substantial part of the book is about a relationship between Annie and James Hartley, a former lover, now an internationally famous and glamorous film-star who turns up to make a film in Hawar. I think the book could have done without this rather novelettish aspect. There are gulfs involved in this part of the story, too, but to expand on it would be a spoiler.

I find Annie an attractive and very well drawn character: despite her self-questioning, she is a good mother (the portraits of her three sons are excellent, too); she is clear-eyed (also about herself) if not always level-headed; she is sensible, sensitive and open-minded; and she has a sense of humour, though she finds herself increasingly in situations which are far from amusing. And we get a very good and interesting view of one of these Gulf states, where great wealth is on show in glittering new cities that are surrounded by ancient deserts. It is also good about political events, some real and some invented.

Despite my niggle at the beginning and my view about the Annie/James part of the story, I have found this book very well-written, compelling and in places a dramatic, tense and unpredictable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Started well but faded badly, 25 Sep 2009
By 
Jill Besterman (Jersey, Channel Islands United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Gulf Between Us (Paperback)
I enjoyed the first third of this book but became quite irritated as it went on. The early descriptions of life as an ex-pat in a small Gulf State are interesting but then the author falls between several stools. There is her input on life in the Middle East as a mid-forties single mother of three sons with a possible war looming and then her description of what it is like to discover that one son is gay, and not only gay but involved in a very unwise relationship. Her relatives are not believable, her brother and his wife are obnoxious (she missed a point here as she should have made her brother a member of the BNP!) Then she throws in a chick-litish romance between her heroine and a Sean Connery/Piers Brosnan/James Bond look-alike movie star and all credibility vanished. It is a pity as the author might have a very good book in her as she clearly knows the area that she is writing about.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Homosexuality versus Arab conservatism, 30 July 2009
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This review is from: The Gulf Between Us (Paperback)
Geraldine Beddell goes into territory where not many writers have dared to venture since Salman Rushdie's little "hiccup" in 1989. She tackles her main theme almost entirely from the viewpoint of the English mother whose teenage son comes out as gay at his brother's wedding in the Gulf and is later found to be the boyfriend of a senior member of the Ruling Dynasty. And the year is 2002 with America poised to invade Iraq.

The fictional island of Hawar is a very thinly disguised Bahrain (down to place names and a reviled former British head of security). Beddell makes more of an effort to hide the inspiration for the vain and nervous English movie actor who sweeps our heroine off her feet (Hugh Grant came rapidly to mind).

The Gulf Between Us is a pleasing and highly readable mix of family drama and romantic comedy, with a serious subtext about relations between liberal Westerners and conservative Muslims in one of Arabia's "archaic hereditary dictatorships" (spot on, Geraldine!). She includes some gossip about another named Arabian head of state which is bold of her and possibly tactless.

As one who has lived in the Gulf and dallied with the locals (and written about it), I would say that Beddell does eloquent justice to the collision of values when East meets West. She handles a large cast of characters (perhaps a bit too large) with great dexterity and brings her story to a delightfully improbable end. Expats - even gay expats - live happily ever after, but no Arab is allowed to be glad to be gay. Will they ever be? Fat chance.

[The reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN, another novel that deals with sexual relations between Arabs and Westerners]
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4.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down!, 18 Jun 2009
This review is from: The Gulf Between Us (Paperback)
There's clearly a gulf between me and the other reviewers so far - I enjoyed this book so much I didn't want to put it down. I can't claim to know much about the Middle East, so I don't know whether the author's portrayal of life in the Gulf is accurate or not, but it made for a very entertaining read. Don't be put off by poor reviews. This is "intelligent women's fiction at its very best". Read the book, and make up your own mind ...
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1.0 out of 5 stars Not one I would recommend, 3 Jun 2009
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This review is from: The Gulf Between Us (Paperback)
I had read brief reviews of The Gulf Between Us, and none mentioned where or when it was set.
I did not like it at all and it is one of the few books I have given up on without reading it all.
Not one I would recommend, but then if we all liked the same things, life would be the poorer for it
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Over rated - avoid, 12 Mar 2009
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This review is from: The Gulf Between Us (Paperback)
Purchased this book on the basis of the recent news about the author being banned in the UAE, so wanted to see what the fuss was about. Knowing the area well I wanted to see what a "typical Expat" wanted to say. Lets say is the typical Brit views blown up big time. Not a great read. Plot development is slow and the characters are not realistic. Just a book trying to play up the gulf angle and make some money. Avoid and wait for some better books.
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