Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas

Iris and Ruby

This is the third book by Rosie Thomas that I’ve read now. Initially I was a little condescending, assigning them a library book rating – fine to get out of the library for a bit of light escapism but not ones to buy for myself. Now I’m persuaded to reconsider.

Iris and Ruby relates the interlocking but distant relationships of three women: Iris, an old woman living a solitary life in an old stone house in Cairo, trying to hold on to her precious memories of her great love in wartime Egypt; Leslie her daughter, a conventional wife and mother, who has suffered from feelings of rejection by her mother all her life; Ruby, her daughter, a troubled but feisty eighteen year old, rebellious and dyslexic, trying to find direction in her life.

Ruby runs away to stay with her unknown grandmother in Cairo. Iris is initially unwelcoming, unwilling to have her peace and memories disturbed, but Ruby’s persistance catches her interest and the two strong-willed women make a connection. Ruby is determined to help her grandmother record the memories which seem to be slipping from her grasp. Iris’ stories of her time in Cairo during the Second World War, the frenetic life of work and partying to forget the war, that lent intensity to relationships that could be cut short any day, weave in and out of Ruby’s present day exploration of Cairo and the development of her relationship with Iris. Leslie is left out of the equation, frustrated both in her intense love for her daughter and her need for her mother’s love that she feels she has never won.

Rosie Thomas strength is her story-telling. I wasn’t drawn in to identify with the characters, though they are well-defined, my interest was kept by the gradual unfolding of the story and the eventual dawning of understanding and acceptance in the troubled mother-daughter relationships. The background of the war being fought in the desert added another layer of period detail to absorb and add to my historical knowledge base.

If you enjoy tales of strong-willed individual women with a war-time setting, do get this one. It is well written and crafted and I ended up liking the characters, even though I didn’t lose myself in them. To quote the reader's review on Amazon "an easy but intelligent read".

When I looked this book up on the Amazons it was only available from the UK..perhaps Rosie Thomas hasn't crossed the Atlantic yet? To see details at Amazon.co.uk on Iris and Ruby click on this title link.

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