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Iris & Ruby - Rosie Thomas

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

DESCRIBED as a richly textured story of love, loss and the distance between three generations of one family, Rosie Thomas’ Iris & Ruby is exactly that. It’s also a joy to read.

As you would expect from the title, the principal protagonists are Iris and Ruby, an old woman of 82 and her headstrong teenage granddaughter; two women who barely know each other – until that is, Ruby turns up unannounced on Iris’s doorstep.

Ruby has run away – from England and a fraught relationship with her mother – to Cairo and the old Egyptian house where Iris is cared for by two faithful retainers, Mamdooh and Auntie.

It marks the beginning of a very special relationship, one that will change Ruby beyond all recognition, force Iris to confront her past and ultimately, bring both closer to Lesley, the daughter/mother caught in the middle.

Thomas drew inspiration for Iris & Ruby from a trip to Egypt and a dramatic excursion into the desert, and she has certainly used her experience to good effect.

Her descriptions of Cairo, both past and present, are redolent with the scents of north Africa, the desert sequence eerily menacing.

But it’s her recreation of wartime Cairo, with its ecstatic highs and despairing lows, that truly shines. It was during this turbulent time that Iris fell in love with the dashing Xan Molyneux, an officer in the elite Tellforce, and such is Thomas’ ability to empathise with her characters, that readers will not only share Iris’s joy but her sorrow too.

As for relationships – whether between mother and daughter, young lovers, friends, or even spouses and exs – Thomas has an extraordinary perception of the minutiae of each and every one. Accordingly, her characters are totally believable.

Furthermore, she doesn’t balk at using modern euphemisms to further this end, so expect the odd four-letter-word.

Well-written, atmospheric and with an engaging storyline, Iris & Ruby comes highly recommended.