Lesley Glaister’s fourteenth novel is a gothic tale of secrets and damaged families. In the 1920s, twins Isis and Osiris live in Little Egypt, the country house of their Egyptologist parents, Evelyn and Arthur. It’s just the siblings, the staff, the cats, and the occasional visit from Uncle Victor – until Evelyn and Arthur send word from Egypt that they’re getting close to a major discovery, and they want the twins to see. None of the characters will come through the ensuing events unscathed.
In the present day, both siblings still live in Little Egypt, although they haven’t seen each other for years. Itself now a relic of a bygone age, the house sits on a little island created by railways and roads; a developer wants to buy the land for a shopping mall, but Isis has held out so far. Over the course of the book, she becomes friends with Spike, a young American anarchist, and invites him to visit Little Egypt – but change may be coming along with him.
Much of the pleasure of reading Little Egypt comes from the gradual revelation of secrets, which Glaister handles very well indeed. Both Isis and Osiris have things to hide, secrets that come to light at different points throughout the novel, which means you can never be quite sure where it will turn next; the present-day storyline doesn’t give away where the historical one is heading, either.
Glaister also establishes some powerful parallels between the novel’s two timeframes. We see how Arthur’s and Evelyn’s obsession with Egypt ultimately created a prison for them, but also how it came to have chilling consequences for the young Isis and Osiris. In the fullness of time, the history of Little Egypt exerted its own force… But I won’t continue with that train of thought. Suffice it to say that Little Egypt is a dark, poignant novel with a pitch-perfect ending.