A subtle delight

LittleEgyptCoverI’ve never been disappointed in anything that Lesley Glaister has written and ‘Little Egypt’ is no exception. Rich, deep, deceptively simple, enthralling and horrific by turns, it is beautifully observed and written – a subtle delight. The two timescales – 1920s and circa 2000 – are handled in such a way as to be totally believable. Two different world’s experienced by one young girl become an old woman. I was going to say bag lady, but she’s not exactly that.

These days social services would almost certainly swoop on Little Egypt and the two youngsters but things were very different in the 1920s so that the situation is entirely credible. As are the plot’s various twists and turns. I was constantly surprised, for the book often appears to be taking you in one direction only to go somewhere else entirely. The writing is so skilful that, although the clues are there I, for one, didn’t see many of them coming, though the tension throughout had me in no doubt that something horrific was going to happen. It just wasn’t what I expected.

The book often appears to be taking you in one direction only to go somewhere else entirely.

This is another book where the characters are wonderfully drawn. I sympathised with poor Osi and, to some extent, Victor. However, my heart went out to the responsible and feisty Issy and also to loyal and put upon Mary. I’d have had the selfish, self absorbed parents in court – though their behaviour would not have been considered as reprehensible then as now – and yet their actions and behaviour is entirely in character.

As both readers and writers know, it’s extremely difficult for a writer to sustain tension right to the very end, to finish well and satisfactorily. Here again, by quietly and almost unnoticeably introducing some crucial facts early on – the lawyer, the trust fund, the greed of the corporation that owns the supermarket – Lesley Glaister gets over some possible, potential stumbling blocks. I particularly admire the fact that she has both the skill, and courage, to leave some loose ends, adding even more credibility to a wonderful story.

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