The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul

I’ve always been transfixed by stories of ancient Egypt and in particular those surrounding the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb in the 1920s, and the tales of the Earl of Carnarvon and the archaeologist responsible for the site, Howard Carter. What I didn’t know and what Gill Paul’s novel tells, is the story of the Earl’s daughter, amateur archaeologist, Lady Evelyn (later Beauchamp), who was also present when the tomb was opened. Based on known facts and real historical figures, this is a wonderful story about love, loyalty, cultural appropriation, secrets, superstition and memory. 

Moving between two time frames – the 1920s and 1970s – the story of the discovery and the subsequent tragedies that follow, become a backdrop to Evelyn and her husband, Brograve’s, romance and marriage – familial and personal triumphs and setbacks and the ways in which the opening of the tomb impacted their lives. 

What I particularly loved about this book was that in one of the time frames, an older Evelyn and Brograve reflect upon their shared experiences over many decades as a loving couple in their 70s, dealing with a health crisis and salvaging memories and moments. It’s so sensitively written and it’s wonderful to have not only older voices narrating, but bearing witness to a functional relationship of so many years! 

The mystery at the heart of the book is evident early but also woven through the narrative in such a way that though there is no “big reveal”, the ending is both gratifying and strangely moving. It’s inevitable. The Author’s Notes are fascinating and I completely understand Gill Paul being unable to resist exploring Evelyn further once she learned about her and ultimately, telling HERstory. A lovely, affecting read.

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