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This certainly isn't a one-sided book: the Western company-men run the gamut from unashamed racists to those like Frances' husband who want to rise to the challenge of building projects and who also cannot turn down the incredible salaries they're offered. Their complicity with the ruling regime and the subtle idea of vast salaries as a form of bribe to mind their own business, even turn a blind eye when necessary, implicates capitalism and those who benefit from it. There's an especially enlightening moment when one of the Western men (an Australian?) admits, after a few bootleg drinks, that he'd rather have his wife and children brought up in the controlled environment of Saudi Arabia than in a Western culture which decreases his control over them...

Similarly, ''Eight Months on Ghazzah Street'' explores the vagaries of cultural misunderstanding, the excesses of fundamentalism, the insidious workings of greed and parochialism -- a heady brew of significance cleverly spiced withSad to say though that her writing prowess doesn't save the story from being as dull as ditchwater.

I'm going to join my husband." She filled in the details again, aware that she was more polite in the air than she was on the ground: the six years in Africa, and now Turadup, and the new Ministry building; aware too that as soon as she had said "husband," the slight interest he had taken in her had faded completely. Andrew's letters had been short, practical. They told her to bring flat sandals, British postage stamps, a bottle of Bovril. His voice on the phone had been hesitant. There had been the odd, expensive silence. He didn't know how to describeFor her novel, Mantel has embellished her miserable experience with a sinister mystery concerning a supposedly unoccupied flat in the gloomy building where Frances Shore lives with her husband, a contractor employed by the Saudi government. Mantel has also denied her protagonist the consolation of her own profession of writing, which must have at least allowed her to fill many of the hours she spent essentially trapped at home while her husband worked. Frances attempts a diary, but has far too little to occupy her time.

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