About Time I Read It: The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

I‘ve always been fascinated by the Middle East. During my early years as a blogger Helen hosted the Middle East Reading Challenge and I loved reading books about, or novels set in the region and linking my reviews to her blog. I still read those kind of books but honestly, I don’t think I read as many as I used to. Siobhan Fallon’s 2017 debut novel The Confusion of Languages is one of several library books I’ve brought home over the last few weeks ago I’ve managed to read in just a short time. I’m pleased to say besides being set in the Middle East it also exceeded my modest expectations.

In Amman, Jordan at the height of the tumultuous Arab Spring Cassie and Margaret are military wives whose respective husbands are officers tasked with gathering intelligence and working with local Arab forces in pursuit of common military objectives. At first Cassie wants nothing to do with the recently arrived Margaret. Put off immediately by her air-head demeanor, slim figure and blond hair its Margaret infant son however that triggers the deepest feelings of jealousy. For years, despite her and her husband’s best efforts Cassie is unable to conceive. The very sight of this shiny new, happy go lucky mother and child is a tough act to watch. But reluctantly, she puts those feelings aside and dutifully takes Margaret under her wing, helping her navigate her new surroundings. Soon the two women strike up an unlikely friendship, strengthened by Cassie’s growing understanding there’s more to Margaret than meets the eye.

In a culture that dictates strict separation between men and women, the reader can only guess Margaret’s bold, almost reckless approach of social interaction is bound to lead to misunderstandings and awkward situations. But as her circle of Arab acquaintances widen this boldness, if left unchecked, runs the risk of spawning consequences unintended or even catastrophic.

The Confusion of Languages is a well-written, gradually unfolding novel that builds in intensity like a slow moving forest fire. It reminds me of several excellent works of fiction I’ve enjoyed in the past. Like Chris Pavone’s The Expats it follows the lives, even the secret ones of Americans living abroad. Spousal intrigue and its impact on even the most innocent of bystanders are also key elements it shares with Sue Miller’s The Senator’s Wife. Lastly, I saw similarities to Alexander Maksik‘s You Deserve Nothing with its foreign setting, covert couplings and alternating perspectives of narrative. Considering all three novels made my year-end list of Favorite Fiction bodes well The Confusion of Languages. 

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