Book Review: The Twelve Rooms of the Nile
What if? is such a tantalizing question, especially when asked in the form of an alternate history. As soon as I read the description of Enid Shomer’s debut novel, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, advertised in The New Yorker as an alternate history bringing together Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert, I added it to my library hold list. And since it turned out to be a thrilling adventure driven by two compelling personalities, I had to review it for The Discarded Image.
Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale both toured the Nile in 1850. No evidence suggests that they met during their excursions, but in The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, Enid Shomer imagines that they did. That both were wealthy Europeans requiring substantial provisioning makes it possible, if not probable, that they encountered one another somewhere along the journey.
What makes this potential encounter so fascinating, as Shomer imagines it, is that these two people are so unalike, their friendship so unlikely. These differences are the alchemy that conjures a brief but intense friendship responsible for launching both parties on the trajectory for which they are known today.