Memory is not a recipe of a shopping list. Memory is the scent of clear water at an oasis, the brush of lips on naked skin, a plangent chord. I cannot capture these things and dictate them to another person. I am a doctor, not a poet.Iris & Ruby, Rosie Thomas
Iris & Ruby has been on my bookshelf for over a decade. I’ve read it once before, at a time in my life when I had a lot more space for books, and so didn’t need to worry about whether they deserved a place on my ‘keeper’ shelf of not. To be honest, I reread Iris & Ruby thinking that, after this, I would donate it and make space for a new book. Except… then I enjoyed it a lot more than I remember enjoying it.
I told him about growing up as a diplomat’s daughter, shuttled between embassies around the world with loving but distant parents who insisted, when the time came, that boarding school back home was best for me and that homesickness — for a home I couldn’t quite locate — was to be overcome by people like us, never yielded to.Iris & Ruby, Rosie Thomas
The premise of Iris & Ruby is nothing particularly special. It starts out very much in the same way as The Lightkeeper’s Daughters, and other multi-generational twining narratives, to the extent that Ruby’s entrance to the narrative reminded me immediately of Morgan’s. The plot is fairly predictable, though it’s still satisfying to see Ruby’s relationships with various family members develop. As the daughter of a ‘travelling family’, it was recognise Iris as a fellow daughter-of-diplomats. It’s a character type I haven’t encountered too often in fiction. That, alone, might be reason enough to earn Iris & Ruby a place on my keeper shelf.
I enjoyed Rosie Thomas’s descriptions of Egypt, and how she varied them depending on the character’s state of mind and progress through the plot. I even added Khan el-Khalili bazaar as a ‘place to visit’ on my new list of described places to see in real life.
Both the beginning and the ending of Iris & Ruby could have been stronger, but the middle was solidly enjoyable. I don’t think I’ll need to return to it anytime soon, but I’ll keep it on my shelf for at least a little while longer.