The Twelve Rooms of the Nile
By Enid Shomer
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781451642964, 464pp.)
Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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.
Enid Shomer won the Iowa Fiction Prize for her first collection of stories and the Florida Gold Medal for her second. She is also the author of four books of poetry. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, and many other publications. She lives in Tampa, Florida.
“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.”