The Dhow House by Jean McNeil

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The Dhow House by Jean McNeil

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Amy Etherington
Reviewed by Amy Etherington
Summary: The Dhow House is a delicately written if somewhat slow moving novel set in an exotic yet war-torn environment. This is good novel to read if you're interested in African culture and the complexities of family relationships.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 352 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Legend Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1785079443

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Rebecca Laurelson is an English doctor working in an African field hospital in the midst of a political conflict when she is suddenly and inexplicitly forced to leave her post. She goes to stay with her estranged Aunt Julia and her family on Africa's east coast away from the violence and daily bloodshed of war, however, their lives are full of beach and cocktail parties which contrast greatly to Rebecca's way of living. But the threat of war is on the horizon for Julia's family and their fellow white Africans – terror attacks are on the rise all along the coast and Rebecca knows more about it than the rest of her family. With unrest brewing will the true reason for Rebecca's hasty departure from her post be revealed?

I was really intrigued by the premise of this book – it's a novel about forbidden passion and the growing fear of war in an exotic destination which feels both familiar and strange at the same time. The tone of the story is rather dreamy and reflective, with lots of rich descriptions to set up the African landscape. There's also an air of mystery to the story - you're kept in the dark as to why Rebecca has left her post but the non-linear narrative gradually moves you back and forth through time as things slowly start to be revealed.

That's probably the one thing that stopped me from becoming completely immersed in this book: the story moves at an incredibly slow pace. For those of you who enjoy books that take their time getting into the plot and are really detailed in their descriptions then I'm sure you would enjoy this. McNeil certainly put a lot of thought into the writing of this book and there is something quite authentic about her style. She incorporates Swahili words throughout the text which may sound daunting at first but they fit into the story very well, giving it a real exotic and authentic feel.

The writing of The Dhow House I can't fault; I just wanted something a little more from the plot. I enjoy gentle and descriptive narratives but the story took quite a long time to really get going which kind of took the edge off it for me. However, the themes explored are really interesting - I particularly liked the focus on ideas concerning colonialism being reversed and the threat of danger the characters, most notably Rebecca, felt whilst living in a war-torn nation. The relationship between Rebecca and her cousin Storm was also very interesting – there's a tension running throughout the story due to the war and the terror attacks, but Rebecca's fascination with Storm adds to that tension on a more emotional level, leaving you to wonder how Rebecca's actions will affect her family.

Despite my slight problems with the pace and execution of the plot, I'd say The Dhow House is worth a read, especially if novels set in Africa are of particular interest to you. For further reading, I would recommend Africa Junction by Ginny Baily for another read which offers an insight into different cultures and life experiences. We also have a review of Fire on the Mountain by Jean McNeil.

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