The Twelve Rooms of the Nile

The Twelve Rooms of the Nile

4.4 10
by Enid Shomer
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Before she became the nineteenth century’s greatest heroine, before he had written a word of Madame Bovary, Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert traveled down the Nile at the same time. In the imaginative leap taken by award-winning writer Enid Shomer’s The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, the two ignite a passionate friendship marked by

See more details below

Overview

Before she became the nineteenth century’s greatest heroine, before he had written a word of Madame Bovary, Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert traveled down the Nile at the same time. In the imaginative leap taken by award-winning writer Enid Shomer’s The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, the two ignite a passionate friendship marked by intelligence, humor, and a ravishing tenderness that will alter both their destinies.

In 1850, Florence, daughter of a prominent English family, sets sail on the Nile chaperoned by longtime family friends and her maid, Trout. To her family’s chagrin—and in spite of her wealth, charm, and beauty—she is, at twenty-nine and of her own volition, well on her way to spinsterhood. Meanwhile, Gustave and his good friend Maxime Du Camp embark on an expedition to document the then largely unexplored monuments of ancient Egypt. Traumatized by the deaths of his father and sister, and plagued by mysterious seizures, Flaubert has dropped out of law school and writ-ten his first novel, an effort promptly deemed unpublishable by his closest friends. At twenty-eight, he is an unproven writer with a failing body.

Florence is a woman with radical ideas about society and God, naive in the ways of men. Gustave is a notorious womanizer and patron of innumerable prostitutes. But both burn with unfulfilled ambition, and in the deft hands of Shomer, whose writing The New York Times Book Review has praised as “beautifully cadenced, and surprising in its imaginative reach,” the unlikely soul mates come together to share their darkest torments and most fervent hopes. Brimming with adventure and the sparkling sensibilities of the two travelers, this mesmerizing novel offers a luminous combination of gorgeous prose and wild imagination, all of it colored by the opulent tapestry of mid-nineteenth-century Egypt.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Booklist (starred review)

“Shomer’s exquisite debut is an intellectual adventure. . . . The superb characterizations, poignant observation on the Egyptian religion, and depictions of the land’s ethereal beauty—all perfectly interwoven—are rendered in memorable language that excites and enriches the mind.”
Sarah Johnson
Booklist
Shomer’s exquisite debut is an intellectual adventure. . . . The superb characterizations, poignant observation on the Egyptian religion, and depictions of the land’s ethereal beauty—all perfectly interwoven—are rendered in memorable language that excites and enriches the mind.
Sarah Johnson
USA Today
“Poetic . . . Enid Shomer's debut novel begins where historical documentation leaves off, imagining a strong friendship between the lost, pre-Madame Bovary Flaubert and the earnest 29-year-old Nightingale searching for a purpose.”
The Best Historical Fiction of 2012 NPR
“Tender and marvelously imagined.”
The Chicago Tribune
“Let’s talk about the imagery first. Let’s choose one word: magnificent. This is the Nile; this is Egypt; this is desert sun and camel rhythms, Harem seduction and ‘spavined mules.’ This is what Shomer does best.”
Publishers Weekly
In her debut novel, poet/storywriter Shomer (Tourist Season) imagines Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale meeting in Egypt, among the crowds cruising the Nile. This is 1850, before Madame Bovary was written or Nightingale famously tended to the wounded in the Crimean War. Shomer portrays the Frenchman and the Englishwoman as seemingly having little in common: he frequents brothels, makes squeezes (tracings) of monuments, and copes with the failure of his early fiction by writing pornography. She travels with chaperones, reads hieroglyphics, and sleeps under a newfangled contraption to keep mosquitoes at bay. Sharing itineraries, the two discover they both possess unquenchable ambition, and they both suffer from depression over the gap between dreams and reality. Mutual respect begets attraction, and soon Nightingale is teaching Flaubert how women think, while Flaubert teaches Nightingale how men feel. Poetically evoked, Egypt proves as multidimensional and conflicted as the main characters, while Nightingale’s maid provides humor and pathos. Narrative drama is not Shomer’s forte, but she makes up for the meandering pace with rich landscapes, probing character studies, and well described insights into inspiration and genius. Agent: Rob McQuilkin, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (Aug.)
Booklist - Sarah Johnson
“Shomer’s exquisite debut is an intellectual adventure through mid-nineteenth-century Egypt as experienced by two dissimilar people sitting on the cusp of greatness, though neither one knows that. Prim, earnest Florence Nightingale yearns to do good works, but her sex and disapproving family constrain her exuberant curiosity. Gustave Flaubert, a devoted cynic, loses himself in debauchery while seeking literary inspiration . . . a captivating story about close friendship and all the pleasures and complications of understanding another human being. The superb characterizations, poignant observations on the Egyptian religion, and depictions of the land’s ethereal beauty—all perfectly interwoven—are rendered in memorable language that excites and enriches the mind.”
author of The Big Girls - Susanna Moore
“The meeting in 1850 of Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert in Egypt, an unlikely but immensely satisfying confluence, is deftly imagined in this brilliant book. The louche Flaubert and the sober Miss Nightingale are fitting representations of ourselves as life’s travelers—alternately lazy and alert, sensuous and restrained, complacent and curious.”
author of Nightingales - Gillian Gill
“I could not imagine it: Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale as friends, almost as lovers! Step by step, detail by detail, Shomer constructs the story of how a man and a woman with nothing in common but genius, one French, one English, one steeped in cynicism, one drowning in despair, could meet on the Nile in 1850, talk, write, hold hands, and see into each other’s souls. As brilliantly sensual as it is finely psychological, this novel is a tour de force of twenty-first century storytelling.”
author of Moloka'i - Alan Brennert
“With the voice of a poet and a keen eye for time, place, and character, Enid Shomer tells of the imagined intersection of two famous lives—and the communion of two unlikely souls—on the crossroads of the Nile. Beautifully written, touchingly rendered.”
The Miami Herald
"A mesmerizing new work of historical fiction...The Twelve Rooms of the Nile...ribald and sometimes explicitly sexual, is a fascinating travel back in time"
From the Publisher
“Let’s talk about the imagery first. Let’s choose one word: magnificent. This is the Nile; this is Egypt; this is desert sun and camel rhythms, Harem seduction and ‘spavined mules.’ This is what Shomer does best.”

"A mesmerizing new work of historical fiction. . . .The Twelve Rooms of the Nile...ribald and sometimes explicitly sexual, is a fascinating travel back in time"

“Shomer’s exquisite debut is an intellectual adventure. . . . The superb characterizations, poignant observation on the Egyptian religion, and depictions of the land’s ethereal beauty—all perfectly interwoven—are rendered in memorable language that excites and enriches the mind.”

“The meeting in 1850 of Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert in Egypt, an unlikely but immensely satisfying confluence, is deftly imagined in this brilliant book. The louche Flaubert and the sober Miss Nightingale are fitting representations of ourselves as life’s travelers—alternately lazy and alert, sensuous and restrained, complacent and curious.”

“I could not imagine it: Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale as friends, almost as lovers! Step by step, detail by detail, Shomer constructs the story of how a man and a woman with nothing in common but genius, one French, one English, one steeped in cynicism, one drowning in despair, could meet on the Nile in 1850, talk, write, hold hands, and see into each other’s souls. As brilliantly sensual as it is finely psychological, this novel is a tour de force of twenty-first century storytelling.”

“With the voice of a poet and a keen eye for time, place, and character, Enid Shomer tells of the imagined intersection of two famous lives – and the communion of two unlikely souls – on the crossroads of the Nile. Beautifully written, touchingly rendered.”

“Poetic . . . Enid Shomer's debut novel begins where historical documentation leaves off, imagining a strong friendship between the lost, pre-Madame Bovary Flaubert and the earnest 29-year-old Nightingale searching for a purpose.”

“Tender and marvelously imagined.”

The Chicago Tribune - Beth Kephart
"Let’s talk about the imagery first. Let’s choose one word: magnificent. This is the Nile; this is Egypt; this is desert sun and camel rhythms, Harem seduction and ‘spavined mules.’ This is what Shomer does best.”
author of The Midwife of Venice - Roberta Rich
“Once in a blue moon I read a novel and want to weep with envy that it is not my name on the cover. The Twelve Rooms of the Nile is such a book. This clever, funny story of Florence Nightingale—English, earnest to a fault, virginal—and Gustave Flaubert—hedonist, sexual gourmet, and cynic—is brilliant. Every sentence, every paragraph shimmers with the color and heat of the Nile and the intelligence of the characters.”
author of A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation - Daniel Menaker
"With its beauty and wit, its bawdiness, its specificity of characterization, its historical rigor, and its cinematic evocation of time and place, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile is an astoundingly good first novel. In fact, forget ‘first.’”
New York Times bestselling author and winner of the George Foster Peabody Award - Amy Hill Hearth
“Enid Shomer’s ingenious first novel, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, is a richly imagined meeting of the minds of two brilliant, iconic figures . . . skillfully depicted here as unformed youth, a pair of lost souls on the cusp of greatness. This is a poignant story of two very different people who find that true illumination often comes in the form of the unlikeliest of human relationships.”
Library Journal
Both Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert sought escape and direction as they traveled in Egypt in 1849–50. Having rejected a marriage proposal, Nightingale longed for purpose in life beyond the limited roles acceptable to her wealthy family. Reeling from his first novel's failure, Flaubert joined his friend Max's study of monuments but devoted more energy to sexual escapades. Although nothing indicates Nightingale and Flaubert met, poet and short story writer Shomer (Tourist Season) bases her debut novel on that possibility. In letters and conversations, they share their estrangement from others and longings for accomplishment. Flaubert explains sources of sexual pleasure to the naive Nightingale. Her quest for independence enlightens him about how societal conventions can stifle women's spirits. A desert trek to the Red Sea turns into a fight for survival after Nightingale's maid, Trout, is kidnapped, other travelers succumb to fever, and water supplies disappear. Despite a growing intimacy between the two before their rescue, Flaubert breaks his promise to meet her in Cairo, in part because he fears he has syphilis. Journeying home, Nightingale wipes Egypt from her memory as she visits European hospitals and discovers purpose and resolve at last. VERDICT Despite the intriguing premise, the novel bogs down in subplots such as relationships between Nightingale and Trout or Flaubert and Max. Readers interested in Egyptology or 19th-century travels will appreciate descriptions of ancient sites. For others, the trip may be more plodding than engaging.—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib. Mankato
Kirkus Reviews
Alternative literary history--the conceit here is that Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert, both of whom traveled to Egypt in 1850, met on the voyage and developed an ardent friendship. In 1850, Flaubert had not yet written Madame Bovary and Florence Nightingale was still looking for an outlet for a personality that identified with the suffering of the world and had yet found no proper channel for her empathy. Flaubert is traveling with Maxime du Camp, and both are worldly men, having frequented whorehouses over several continents. In fact, Flaubert is currently enamored with Kuchuk Hanem, whose sultry beauty he recalls with lascivious fondness--and this while having temporarily left his mistress, Louise Colet, back in France. In contrast, Nightingale is traveling with Charles and Selina Bracebridge, friends who also serve as chaperones, and she is trying to escape both a family that tries to rein in her assertive personality and a broken engagement to Richard Monckton Milnes, the English man of letters. Although Flaubert's English is spotty, the language barrier is more than made up for by Nightingale's excellent French. He begins addressing her as "My dear Rossignol [Nightingale]," and their conversation becomes increasingly intimate, as does their physical contact, the sensual novelist helping to loosen up the strait-laced Nightingale. Although they never consummate their relationship, the sexual energy increases dramatically when they take a caravan trip across the desert. By the end of the novel, Flaubert and Nightingale split up wistfully, neither overly nostalgic for what might have been. By weaving her own imaginative constructions in with actual journal entries of both Flaubert and Nightingale, Shomer skillfully combines historical plausibility and historical truth.

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781451642971
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
08/20/2013
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
480
Sales rank:
614,656
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >