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Iris & Ruby by Rosie Thomas - Review

Monday, November 16, 2020

This book was the October choice for my book club, and I bought a second hand copy off eBay. I'm not sure I would have ever picked up this book by myself, and the first half dragged a bit for me, but I really liked it by the end. My book club is tonight (as I'm writing this) and I'm looking forward to hearing what everyone else thought about it. 

The book was published in 2007 and is set around then. Ruby is nineteen and arrives to her grandmother's house in Cairo having run away from her family home in Kent. Her mother is back home worried frantic about her, but there's a gap between Ruby and Lesley that neither of them can seem to cross. Iris, Ruby's grandmother, has lived a reclusive life in Cairo for many years. She is beginning to lose her memory, and is quite frail. She hasn't spent much time at all with Ruby before, but she agrees that Ruby can stay in Cairo with her for a while. 

Ruby rubs up against Iris' staff, Mamdooh and Auntie, who fuss over Iris to quite some degree. She also starts to explore Cairo with Ash, a boy that she really likes, who wants to become a doctor but who has to work nights in the hospital to help keep his family afloat. Ruby has had some recent sadness in her life, and is quite raw and still grieving. 

Iris has lived in Cairo for years, but before that she was a doctor in remote parts of Africa doing basic medical care and didn't spend much time at home with her husband Gordon and her child, Lesley. This led to the two of them not having much of a relationship once Lesley was an adult. Lesley in her turn has become an over protective mum and Ruby has rebelled against this.

Iris also lived in Cairo during the Second World War and it's this we see from her point of view throughout the book. She was the secretary to an officer, and she lived with an Egyptian girl, Faria, and another English girl, Sarah. Her life is a whirlwind of cocktail parties and dinner with officers who are never sure when they will head back to the desert front to fight. This makes them reckless men, and the women are tugged along for the ride.

Iris meets Captain Xan Molyneux and starts a relationship with him. The two fall in love and Iris makes many plans for their future. It's obvious that Xan didn't survive the war, and this is the great love that Iris never got over. She is back in Cairo because that's where she feels closest to him. She lives in a huge house that has become very dusty and unloved, and which belonged to a friend of Iris during the war. Iris ended up becoming friends with some medical personel during the war and that's how she ended up a doctor.  

She and Ruby forge a relationship throught the time Ruby is in Cairo. Something happens in the second half of the book that I loved, and which redeemed the whole book for me. It's really long though, and I did feel the first half dragged a lot. I very nearly gave up on the book but really wanted to finish it for book club. 

I loved the depiction of Cairo during the war, which had a lot of information that I didn't know. I enjoyed learning the history. The depiction of the glamourous girls and the parties was so good, too. It was all too easy to imagine, and imagine the personalities of the men who were determined to make the most of all their off time and they didn't know how long they had. I liked Iris but did find her quite cold and didn't quite think that her great love affair with Xan was reason enough to not move on properly latrer in her life. I loved Ruby and felt very sorry for her. I loved a lot of the secondary characters, too, especially Ash. Cairo itself is almost a chracter in its own right. I really want to visit one day!

I'm giving this four out of five. 

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