As a child, Rose Hall is fascinated with language and stories. When her father reveals that she was named for the port of Rosetta, in Egypt, her interest in the ancient Egyptians and their hieroglyphs is ignited. Rose marries Harry Fallon, scion of a wealthy banking family with aspirations to join the aristocracy. Harry’s death in Egypt reveals the web of lies, immorality and corruption lying beneath the surface of the Fallon family. A young, childless widow, Rose sets out to discover the truth about what happened to her husband and to free herself from the ambitions of his ruthless brother. Her journey takes her to the Rosetta Stone, to Rosetta itself, and to a child who shows her the true meaning of love.
Ewing’s novel has a complex, wide-ranging plot in which she has nevertheless found room for reflections on the attractions of power, sexuality, the social role of women and the mass hysteria which can be engendered by the death of a loved public figure which have a strong modern resonance. In her account of the death of Princess Charlotte, for example, the parallels with the death of Princess Diana and the public response to it, are made explicit in Ewing’s language and imagery. Her sense of period is assured, though I did at times wonder if I had strayed into parodies of Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen.
This is the story of a group of women and how they create a space for themselves in a world dominated by a pretty useless set of men. Though I tend to find this kind of misandry formulaic, and I struggled to disregard Ewing’s irritating tendency to string every sentence together with more ‘ands’ than even Ernest Hemingway could shake a stick at, this is a well researched and engaging novel.