Thursday, September 6, 2012

"The Twelve Rooms of the Nile"

A widely published fiction writer and poetry, Enid Shomer is the author of seven books. Her work has been collected in more than fifty anthologies and textbooks, including POETRY: A HarperCollins Pocket Anthology, Best American Poetry, and New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, and reported the following:
The other day I did an interview for BBC 4 radio and they asked me to bring along a copy of the book. I picked up the book and then realized that the American and English editions are paginated differently! I ended up taking both along for the show. So, page 69? There are two versions, and they cover vastly different parts of the story, you might even say opposite ends of the story.

1. The American edition page 69:

Flaubert receives his first letter from Nightingale (delivered by native runner). She includes a drawing (reproduced earlier in the book) of the contraption called a “levinge” that she is sleeping in to keep away insects. While he is reading her delightful letter, he can smell the dinner of roast lamb, rice, and beans cooking on his houseboat. “Whenever he reread the letter years later, he was haunted by a vague memory of hunger—of heightened awareness and the anticipation of pleasure.”

So, yes, this page is a good window on the novel as a whole. It connects the characters and invites us further into Flaubert’s mind, especially his reaction to Nightingale.

2. The British edition page 69:

A completely different scene happens on page 69 of the British edition. Flaubert is conferring with his traveling companion, the journalist Maxime Du Camp. Du Camp fears that he has caught the pox. “I have dipped my pen into too many inkpots,” Max said, pouring himself half a tumbler of wine.

Being the son of a physician, Flaubert inspects his friends “noble part” and determines that Max has not contracted syphilis. At the same time, he quietly recalls for himself his own first exposure to venereal difficulties. When he lost his virginity to a housemaid at home in Rouen as a teenager, he, too, thought he had caught syphilis. He remembers consulting the town pharmacist because he was too embarrassed to speak with his father.

Here, though the plot point is different, I think the page is a good representative of the novel. Flaubert and Du Camp are getting to know each other better, and the introduction of the threat of syphilis lays the groundwork for an important turn in the plot later on. Syphilis was an enormous medical problem in the nineteenth century and in Flaubert’s real life. He caught “the pox” on this trip through Egypt.
Learn more about the book and author at Enid Shomer's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue