Saturday 5 November 2016

Book review : The Dhow House - Jean McNeil

The Dhow House is set in an unnamed African country and centres around Rebecca Laurelson, a British doctor, working in a neutral field hospital which patches up victims from both sides of the violent skirmishes between locals and Islamist terrorists. There are detailed descriptions of the landscapes and wildlife (in particular the birds) and many towns and villages are named, so I spent much of the first part of the book trying to work out which country it takes place in. It turns out that it is a fictional country though, which I thought was a shame because it diluted its authenticity and impact. I love historical fiction and novels set in exotic locations that teach me about times or places that I know little about, so this would have been a great way to deepen my knowledge of African politics, particularly as I am sure much of it is based on real life or at least things that could happen in real life, given the current climate.

Several chapters into the novel, Rebecca is removed from her perilous professional situation and relocated to the seemingly safer and calmer coastal region, where she has long-lost family. Rather than looking out for stray bullets and grenades or the arrival of hostile terrorists, she can focus more on the beach parties and cocktail receptions that the rich and relatively carefree white Africans are still enjoying in this part of the country.

Rebecca is unsurprisingly guarded and keeps her cards close to her chest, but this carries over to the reader and I never really felt that I knew or fully understood her or her motivations. We are drip-fed nuggets of information that can lead us to suppose certain things about her situation, but this sense of mystery made it hard for me to really empathise with her.

As the sense of unease and imminent danger heightens, both within Rebecca's private life and her relationships with her family members but also the country at large, we all know that it is not going to end well and are just waiting to find out quite how badly and with how much collateral damage things will pan out. I felt that the final showdown went down with a whimper more than a bang though, as I was expecting something much more spectacular, unforgettable and, probably, violent.

It's an interesting premise for a novel and the prose is lyrically written, but I felt slightly underwhelmed, wanting more from both the political conflict and also Rebecca's own inner turmoil.

star rating : 3.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (15 Sept. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785079441
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785079443

Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

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