Saturday, 8 April 2017

Retro Reading - The Mummy

After thoroughly loving my re-read of Help Wanted, I decided my next Point Horror should be one I didn't read as a teenager, so as to view it without those rose-tinted nostalgia goggles. I remember seeing The Mummy in bookshops during my Point Horror years, but I never picked it up. I'm not sure why, because I love Egyptian mythology, so this should have been a must-read for me. Maybe I was already weaning myself off Point Horror by the time this one came out?

Anyway! Our story is simple enough. Egypt-obsessed aspiring archaeologist, Lana, volunteers at her local museum to help run a priceless Egyptian exhibit. As she becomes more and more fascinated with the mummy of the boy-prince, Nefra, creepy things begin happening to and around her. Part of the exhibit is stolen. Someone - or something - is stalking Lana. And they may not be human - or even alive. Throw in some dreams that might not be dreams and a too-smart cat, and you've got a recipe for spookiness!

Honestly, I started out thinking I wouldn't like this. The writing felt more juvenile than Help Wanted or The Silent Scream, but I think some of that is down to the nostalgia goggles. Lana came across at first as very young, and her Egypt obsession was painted as kind of childish. As the story develops, she improves, but I could never really get a feel for how old she was supposed to be, and she could have been anywhere between fourteen and eighteen based on her behaviour.

The central mystery - who stole the necklace from the exhibit and who is stalking Lana - is handled well in that there are several suspects who all seem equally likely. Disappointingly, it's another case of "the villain is psychotic!" and I really think there should be a disclaimer in these books somewhere that reads PSYCHOTIC DOES NOT EQUAL DANGEROUS/CRIMINAL. But I liked that the answer wasn't obvious, and that Lana pieces the clues together herself, without any wild last-minute confessions from the bad guys.

The Egyptian elements rely heavily on the motif that Egypt is an exotic, mysterious country where everyone believes in magic and curses, which...I don't know, probably isn't entirely a sensitive presentation. But I think any story written by a non-Egyptian person is probably going to take that route, because it's an idea that's so entrenched in Western society. There are paranormal elements in the story that turn out to be genuine - Lana's cat is the reincarnation of Nefra, and Lana's dreams really are dreams of her past life as an Egyptian princess. I liked that, in the sense that it was cool that it turned out the spooky stuff wasn't all Scooby-Doo style "bad guy in a mask" shenanigans.

There was a heavy emphasis placed on how Lana could so easily pass for an ancient Egyptian without anyone ever addressing what an "ancient Egyptian" looked like. I guess it's entirely possible Lana is a WoC, but mostly it just seems like she wears her hair a certain way (it's not said, but I'm assuming she's gone for the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra cut), and everyone says "wow, so Egyptian!" I found that weird, especially as there are two Egyptian characters in the book who are explicitly described as "not white." It irked me that Lana, who is presumably white, is lavished with praise for being so beautifully Egyptian-looking.

What I did like was this:

There's a nasty tendency for certain Westerners to mock the broken English of people who speak it as a second language. I am always going to champion a book that makes the point that - hey, how many languages do you speak? So just going to leave that there.

That aside, this turned out to be a fun read. Hey, it had a magic cat! And I can definitely relate to a heroine who just wants to stay home with her cat.

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