Monday, 21 May 2007

Rosetta - Barbara Ewing

Egypt has always fascinated me, from the history, culture and architecture to 'Death on the Nile', so I'm a sucker for any books with a vague connection to all things Egyptian. I watched the BBC 'Egypt' series avidly, and loved the story of the race to translate the hieroglyphics using the Rosetta stone, with Jean-François Champollion and Thomas Young (amongst others) competing to win the intellectual race of the age. The protagonist and narrator of this book, Rosetta (usually known as Rose), is also fascinated with Egypt, and listens enthralled to her father's tales of the town after which she is named. With the discovery of the Rosetta stone and its subsequent fall into English hands, Rose's other obsession, words, could have lead her towards the struggle to understand the ancient markings. Unfortunately, when she does go to Egypt it is to rescue her dead husband's illegitimate child, and she leaves almost as soon as she arrives. The rest of the story is rather disappointing, with Rose struggling to keep the child from her in-laws, and generally being a bit of a martyr about the whole thing.

My overall impression was that Barbara Ewing started off wanting to write an intellectual historical novel, with adventures in Egypt and insight into the discoveries of the day, but halfway through realised that it was easier to write a historical romance. I think I was disappointed because I was expecting the former, whereas if it had been packaged as the latter I would have read it with slightly different eyes and thoroughly enjoyed it. My brother experienced a similar thing when watching 'Gosford Park' - he expected it to be a detective story starring Stephen Fry, so wasn't impressed with the atmospheric portrayal of the upstairs-downstairs shenanigans of the Thirties. Now I know how he felt.

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