Monday, February 4, 2008

Nefertiti: A review

I’ve always been a bit fascinated by Nefertiti, so I wanted to love the novel by Michelle Moran. At best, I quite liked it, and I’m disappointed.
I suppose anyone who has a fascination for the people and events of ancient Egypt has their own idea of what the people are like. And yes, I have my own Nefertiti characterised. I didn’t expect Moran to bring my Nefertiti to life, but the one she did bring to life is, at best, two-dimensional with extremely questionable motives.
She behaves so appallingly throughout the book, that it’s hard to fathom why she does what she does most of the time, and her husband Akhenaten, portrayed as a mad despot, is no better.
The novel is told from the point of view of Mutny, Nefertiti’s younger, more virtuous sister. Also a two-dimensional figure, and really annoying in the early part of the book, as her only function seems to be reactionary.
The actions of Nefertiti and Akhenaten have to be called into question.
It’s well known that Akhenaten left Thebes and built a whole new city in the desert. But, in the novel, he also seems to set about systematically destroying Egypt. And, as our only in is Mutny, his motivations are unknown. And he spends so much of the book shouting, or in a rage, it’s hard to see him governing anything.
The trouble with historical fiction is that it really is the author’s interpretation of events. And these events took place so long in the past, that you could make Akhenaten a dancing monkey if you wanted to.
But I think a little too much dramatic licence has been taken, and certain things have been done for effect, rather than to move the story along. And as for the plague … how likely was that in ancient Egypt, really? Wasn’t plague carried by the fleas on rats? And surely ancient Egypt would have been full of cats. So … plague?
Having said all that, I did like it. It’s readable, and it’s dramatic. I just wish I liked the main players more.


Isla said...

Good review! But yes, there was plague in ancient Egypt. National Geographic did an entire article on it last year, and how plague may have even originated there.

Stan said...

By coincidence, I've just finished reading the book. Eminently readable, but factually very inaccurate. For instance, she sites Malkata palace close to Karnak temple when in reality Amenhotep moved totally away from the Theban priesthood, and built his palace on the West Bank of the Nile, about 10 miles from Thebes. Also, he was strongly for Aten - his boat was called Splendour of Aten, and some would say the Sun Court in Luxor temple was an Atenist symbol. There are other major inaccuracies, but not enough space to detail them. But, the book itself was enjoyable to read.

Maree said...

Thanks for your comments :)
Isla: Hmm ... I didn't know that about the plague, so I'll concede that point. :)
Stan: that's what I understood about Amenhotep as well. And I agree, her style is very readable, but maybe it was style over content for me.