Fiction by Paul West
Known for wrapping readers in his historical web, Paul West, in his marvelous new novel Cheops: A Cupboard for the Sun, turns his attention to the 4th Dynasty (approx. 2680 BC) of ancient Egypt. Here, we find the pharaoh Cheops, building the great pyramids at Giza, surrounded by workers and solar boats. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, “a hundred thousand men were made to toil constantly for him,” and, as Herodotus claimed, Egypt was “plunged into all manner of wickedness.’ In Cheops, West delightfully has Herodotus transported back in time, to meet the great pharaoh face to face. Nearing death, getting ready for his final “transportation to the stars,” the blind Cheops is obsessed with preparing for his end. All the while, the intrigues of his daughters, sons, wives, and courtiers are revealed, uncovering murder, incest, and rebellion. Perhaps most intriguing is the overarching narration by Osiris, god of the Nile. While managing to “pipe” the music of English composer Frederick Delius into the dying Cheops’s ears, he comments on this swarm of events with hilarious and humane authority. Profound and entertaining, Cheops: A Cupboard for the Sun is perhaps Paul West’s greatest novel yet.