Final day of the blog tour today – and have you seen all those wonderful reviews? It’s a real pleasure today to be sharing – at long last – my review of The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul. Published by Avon Books on 30th September, this wonderful book is now available as an e-book, in paperback and as an audiobook. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading copy (provided via netgalley).
Gill’s books have given me such pleasure over the last few years – she’s one of my favourite authors, and I always eagerly await whatever she does next. I’ve always had a fascination with the Romanovs, and I really loved both The Secret Wife (review here) and The Lost Daughter (you’ll find that review here). And then she chose another of my personal favourites – Wallis Simpson – as the subject of her next, and Another Woman’s Husband was everything I’d hoped it would be (you’ll find my review here). And then it was as if she’d asked me “who would you like me write about next?” – it was Onassis, the Kennedys, and Maria Callas, and The Second Marriage was simply wonderful (you’ll find that review here).
Just before the first lockdown I was down in London for RNA Awards, and took the opportunity to visit the Tutankhamun exhibition before I returned home again – a totally unforgettable experience to look back on over the difficult times that followed. So when I discovered the subject of Gill’s latest book, I don’t think I could possibly have been any more excited – goodness, I was so looking forward to this one…
An unforgettable discovery
In 1922, Lady Evelyn Herbert’s dreams are realised when she is the first to set foot inside the lost tomb of Tutankhamun for over 3,000 years.
A cursed life
But the months after the discovery are marred by tragedy, when Eve’s father dies suddenly and her family is torn in two. Desperate to put the past behind her, Eve retreats into a private life with her new husband.
A deadly choice
But she is harbouring a dark secret about what really happened in Egypt. And when a young woman comes asking questions years later, the happiness Eve has finally found is threatened once more…
Every account you’ll ever read of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb focuses on the work of archaeologist Howard Carter – and on the Earl of Carnarvon, who funded the search and the work that followed. Like many others, I hadn’t really heard of Lady Evelyn Herbert, the Earl’s daughter, present on the day the tomb was unsealed and (perhaps…) the first to enter the tomb and experience its treasures, she later became a renowned Egyptologist and lived a fascinating life – but, as so often happens, she’s a woman who’s been largely airbrushed out of the history. Much of this book is a work of fiction, the imagined life of this enigmatic and fascinating woman, built around the author’s painstaking research into the key moments in her life.
We first meet Lady Evelyn, known to those close to her as Eve, in the 1970s, as she struggles to recover from the latest of several strokes, grasping for her memories – recent events are less than clear, and she barely recognises her husband and soulmate Brograve or her daughter Patricia, but an image of a felucca on the Nile brings the memories flooding back of a unique experience she could never forget. As she fights to recover her mobility and power of speech, we revisit those memories with her – beginning with her life of privilege at Highclere castle back in the 1920s, her love for Egypt nurtured by her much-loved father, the events surrounding the discovery of the tomb and its treasures, her courtship and marriage to Brograve, her life as a wife and mother, and the car accident that made her prone to the strokes in later life.
One thing – and it’s one of many – that I loved about this book was the way her story was told. It’s not a conventional dual timeline story, instead a fascinating series of scenes revisited through her memories, the story always looping and returning to the present day with that wonderful relationship between Eve and husband Brograve and her determined efforts to recover her health. There were long-hidden secrets around the opening of the tomb, artefacts that never found their way to the museums or exhibitions, and Eve is visited by a young woman from Cairo University, keen to uncover the facts and return them to their home – and that uncovers thoughts of the legendary curse of the Pharaohs and the possibility that Eve’s ill-health might just be part of its legacy.
The research that went into this book must have been immense – and, as always, the author’s afterword setting out the facts and the areas where she needed to employ her extraordinary imagination is a simply fascinating read – but she weaves it seamlessly into a compelling and emotionally engaging story, where all the characters and locations are brought vividly to life through impressive characterisation and a wonderful recreation of both time and place. While reading, you relive every significant event, the author making you feel as if you’re present – it’s quite superb writing.
And the author’s emotional touch is perfect too – Eve herself is exceptionally charismatic and sympathetic throughout, and I particularly enjoyed following the story of her courtship and marriage to Brograve, an enduring love affair that entirely engaged my heart. There’s a particular sensitivity too about the way Eve’s health issues are handled – the faltering recovery of her speech, her frustration at her limitations – and the book’s ending both took my breath away and broke my heart.
As a piece of hidden history, this book is a fascinating read – but the author builds the factual content into a riveting story that I found entirely compelling from beginning to end. Quite wonderful – and a book I’d recommend to all.
About the author
Gill Paul is an author of historical fiction, specialising in the twentieth century and often writing about the lives of real women. Her novels have topped bestseller lists in the US and Canada as well as the UK and have been translated into twenty-one languages. The Secret Wife has sold over half a million copies and is a book-club favourite worldwide.
She is also the author of several non-fiction books on historical subjects. She lives in London and swims year-round in a wild pond. The Collector’s Daughter is her tenth novel.