‘Little Egypt’ by Lesley Glaister tells the story of twin siblings, Isis and Osiris, and their childhood in the 1920s. Living in a large family home called Little Egypt, their eccentric parents, Evelyn and Arthur, set off to search for the fabled tomb of Herihor, leaving the twins in the care of their housekeeper Mary and their uncle Victor. Many decades later, Isis and Osiris are now in their nineties and still living in their derelict house which Isis cannot sell for fear of someone discovering what happened there all those years ago.
The story of ‘Little Egypt’ switches between the 1920s and the present day but not in a jarring way and the majority of the novel focuses on the twins’ childhood. Glaister has a fabulous imagination and the opening scenes depicting Isis’s life as an elderly woman drinking Bacardi Breezers with a homeless American anarchist called Spike are brilliantly surreal. However, the story gradually develops from being darkly humorous to darkly macabre. Although I wouldn’t classify this book as part of the horror genre, it has a gruesome and bizarre ending which will leave you feeling very unsettled.
While the story is set during a very specific period of time – Victor is suffering from shell shock after the First World War while amateur Egyptologists, Evelyn and Arthur, are trying to outdo Howard Carter – it doesn’t get bogged down in historical detail. In some ways, the light description feels quite timeless and reminds me of ‘The Thirteenth Tale‘. However, compared to Diane Setterfield’s novel, I think ‘Little Egypt’ has been written and structured much more skilfully and the result is a subtle and satisfying read.
Overall, ‘Little Egypt’ is a highly original and atmospheric novel and I’m very glad I stumbled across it by chance on Amazon recently. I haven’t read any of Glaister’s eleven other novels so I would welcome any recommendations if you are familiar with any of them.