In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes

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In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: Gin McPhee comes from a long line of adventurous women. When her oil worker husband offers her the chance to get out of Houston and enjoy a new life in Saudi Arabia, complete with luxuries galore, she takes it – but it only looks good on the surface, and what lies beneath isn't anything she might have expected.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 336 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Hutchinson
External links: Author's website
ISBN: ISBN-13: 978-0091944216

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This book begins beautifully with all the characters springing to life through fantastically spare and creative description. By the time we reach Gin, living with her her grandfather in the stifling atmosphere of a strict Methodist minister’s home, the story is in full swing and we follow Gin through her teenage years as she tries hard to rebel against all the limitations placed upon her.

After meeting her husband, they leave for Saudi Arabia, for Mason to work and for Gin to live in the protective enclave of a US company. Gin finds it hard to adjust to a world where women can’t go for coffee alone and the social life is incestuous and shallow. But there’s a lot more to the problem of hothouse living and frequent separations from a partner. While Gin learns more than she could have thought there was to know about the world, the one she is living in takes several sinister turns, the kind for which there can be no preparation.

In terms of the writing, by the time we reach Saudi Arabia, the description moves from spare to intensely detailed, often too detailed. While Barnes’ efforts to bring the landscape and characters to life are undoubtedly thorough, there were moments where I found myself wishing that she was a little less so. The complex cast of characters working for the oil company took a little getting to know, but did not require as much fleshing out and detail, especially when Barnes clearly has immense skill in drawing characters with less of it. However, the landscape and environmental descriptions were enjoyable and made for a great sense of place.

The description, and particularly the amount of time dedicated to the personal experiences of some of the characters, deluged the key storylines at points. Gin’s thoughts were also recounted in so much detail, at times I found myself wondering when the next significant incident was going to occur. The points about the awkwardness of separation were also driven home hard and several times.

When the major incidents did occur, I found myself less impressed with them because I had been impatient for something to happen. It would certainly be a great book for someone with a particular interest in the region and the relevant history and politics, but there are many key moments that are moved away from their significance by the reminiscences of characters that didn’t seem very relevant.

This all adds up to a story that is quite deeply buried. It would be a good novel for someone looking to luxuriate in description and detail but not a great choice for someone who prefers more activity in a book. Barnes clearly has a talent for storytelling but it hasn’t quite come out in the bulk of this book.

If this book appeals then you might enjoy So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman or Sharaf by Raj Kumar.

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Buy In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes at


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