The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer is a beautiful and well-written historical novel about the exploration of Egypt by French Author Gustave Flaubert and Englishwoman Florence Nightingale. While historical facts never confirm that Flaubert and Nightingale ever crossed paths while on their exploration journeys Ms. Shomer weaves a poetic dream of a “what-if” story. The imagery Ms. Shomer paints with her words is outstanding. I could see every detail of this trip as though I was watching the story unfold through my window. The ships, the flags, the dress, the Nile river, the Egyptian pyramids and monuments were all described with exacting detail. It was highly descriptive, but not boring. The entire story read like a dream and I didn’t want it to ever end.
The characters, Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale, lived such separate lives it was difficult to imagine them ever becoming friends or confidantes until I read The Twelve Rooms of the Nile. Flaubert, a failing author, is also a sexual addict with an overly abundant appetite for prostitutes and a strong revulsion to the institution of marriage. Nightingale is an ambitious dreaming woman who has always been too curious and too outspoken. Nightingale has also rejected the idea of marriage and is in pursuit of a greater purpose that she feels God is calling her toward, though it has not yet been identified. The idea of these two being involved romantically is difficult to fathom yet the idea of these two lost and wandering souls as friends and companions is sensible. From their first true conversation after dinner on Nightingale’s exploration boat the intellectual bond between these two is evident. They balance each other beautifully and Ms. Shomer weaves their lives together in a very simple way.
From the opening paragraph I knew this book was going to be a dream. Instead of reading words on a page I felt as though I was watching written watercolors paint out a fantasy for me. The Twelve Rooms of the Nile is poetic prose about two unique souls in an exotic land. It is a book I wanted to re-open to read again as soon as I closed the last page. In a word, this book was mesmerizing.