The English Girl

Written by Katherine Webb

Joan Seabrook is a young archaeologist who dreams of visiting Arabia and is particularly interested in exploring the desert fort of Jabrin, said to conceal many treasures. But this is the 1950s, when the Middle East is in turmoil, caught between the ancient customs of the Sultans and the exploration for oil which began earlier in the century. Joan travels to Muscat, capital of Oman, with her fiancé, and there meets Maude Vickery, Joan’s long-time heroine, who is also an archaeologist but now an old lady living in retirement in Muscat. They become friends and Joan finds ways of travelling into the vast interior desert.

This book is based on the Jebel War, which took place in 1958/9 and is the backdrop to the story. I found it quite difficult to get into. The constant flashbacks in alternate chapters between Joan’s visit and Maude’s earlier excursions in the early 1900s I found to be disrupting, as no sooner had the reader caught up with one than they were whisked backwards or forwards to an earlier/later time. Given that the Sultan of Muscat, at that time, was living in something of a time warp, I found the characterisation somewhat stereotyped and flat. Having been to Muscat and seen something of the area for myself, I had been looking forward to reading this book but have to admit that I was a little disappointed with it. It will, no doubt, appeal to many of our readers but not, sadly, to me.