Hilary Mantel wrote this blistering attack on Saoudi Arabia after staying there 4 years in the town of Jeddah , with her husband.They lived in un unfinished town, in the middle of the desert, surrounded by walls; the men went to work early and the women stayed behind walls, veiled, prisoners of a luxurious home, with nothing to do but raise the kids and entertaining other ladies. The expat women gave awful dinners for other expats , served no alcohol of anykind but grape juice brewed at home,wore no veils, gossiped ,grew bored and became depressed.. The story of Frances depression is offset by her intensely irony and witty and unrelenting criticism
as well as her portraits of the oriental women she befriends; ladies who are convinced of the wisdom of Islam since to deny it would amount to suicide and despair. Her husband is not in the least sympathetic to her suffering , since she feels erased from a society where women do not work and are considered either as whores or slaves to their family , and are not individuals , but mere consumers of the wonderful shopping centers which dot the city . But there would be no story if there was not a snake in this false paradise naturally and thank God, Mantel writes a sort of oriental thriller that keeps you suspended in this urban desert, where a nice day reaches 48 degrees Celsius , without a park or a single normal tree to look at.It is terrifying.
Since the quarrel of the burka in our European cities and the frequency of the veil among Muslim girls in Europe, one should make this particular book compulsory to all teen agers, male and female, in order to grasp what havoc male dominance can bring on an entire female population reduced to shadows and imbecility.. Frances is almost ignored by her own husband and fellow countrymen when she complains of strange noises coming from an empty flat above them; it is not accepted to criticize or report anything peculiar in the Kingdom since the police arrests anybody for ungiven reasons. Assassination, torture and weapons trafficking do happen in your own building and witnesses are simply destroyed ( killed) ,as happens commonly in Afghanistan where a real war is wagged, and still no one goes to the law . In the face of unspeakable crime, expats simply leave notwithstanding visa or permit to leave . They go back home.These unimaginable circumstances for any sane western citizen are described normally but in the most acerbic and self deprecating tone which makes this novel readable, amusing even and not too oppressive. Quite a feat and a book to discover in the times we live in.