Usually a reader of more mainstream mass marketed adventure novels which have some links to historical fact: think Brown, Gibbins et al - I was delighted to discover this absolute gem of a novel. Intrigued by the setting and double narrative, I purchased the book and wasn't disappointed.
I must start by expressing one important truth: Davies' writing is flawless - quite simply in a different league to any of my usual reads. This was a refreshing experience - every word had it's place, the narrative flowed freely, painting beautiful pictures of Egypt, stirring every conceivable emotion from the depths, the plot gripping and not relenting until the last word. And the book did not finish when I put it down, I was left wracked with emotion, my senses assaulted, a feeling that stayed with me for days afterwards. Such is the quality of the characterisation that every delicious and sometimes painful plot twist and change in relationship really mattered - I have never cared about, empathised and sympathised with or understood characters so much as I did with 'Into Suez's' Ailsa and Joe. I have read a few novels with double narratives and always cared more for one time frame than the other. I have been guilty of skimming through chapters just to get back to the favoured narrative - I am delighted to say this is NOT the case here! Both narratives are of equal value and are integral to the book; they exist to enhance each other. We explore Egypt during the run up to the Suez Crises of the 1950's through the eyes of a newly married and adventurous Ailsa and her young and equally spirited and tender daughter Nia... During the early 2000's we experience a grown up Nia's quest to retrace her roots and uncover her families devastating truths; all the while mother and daughter are caught up in the hypnotic spell of the charismatic Mona Seraphim Jacobs.
Perhaps Davies' biggest achievement in writing this book is her ability to challenge your sense of stereotypes: Ailsa is no ordinary housewife - she will not be caged by her military house doing chores, will not be intimidated by the instability or conflict, will not agree with racism at any level and cannot help but feel that the British presence in Egypt is not justified. She longs to discover the 'real' Egypt, understand it's people, ride motorbikes and mingle with individuals she really ought not to. Joe has much deeper, warmer layers than his regimented military exterior, experiences in conflict and casual racism (sadly endemic at the time) exude. His relationship with his daughter is beautifully portrayed, his compassion and affection made very clear; his love of his wife is absolute and the extent to which he values his best friend is staggering. At the heart of this wonderful book is the fact that we human beings can't help craving something more... we take things for granted when we quite possibly have all we could wish for, we don't always learn from our mistakes, we justify taking risks to ourselves, throwing so much into jeopardy, even when we hear that warning bell ringing! The novel expertly explores the consequences of Ailsa and Joe's choices in Egypt and the devastating reality of the resulting aftermath. I cannot recommend this book enough - a 'must read' doesn't do it justice. I'm off to read a couple of Davies' previous novels: 'The Eyrie' and 'The Element of Water'. If they are half as good as 'Into Suez' then I am in for a treat! Thank you Stevie Davies for writing this powerful, challenging and wonderfully bittersweet book, I am stunned by it's brilliance.