Set against the politically charged backdrop of modern-day Jordan and related from the perspective of an expat British writer, there are a multitude of areas through which Alexander McNabb could have stumbled in Olives. Thankfully, he at least captures the essence of the region’s problems, no doubt helped by years of experience working in the Middle East.
Described as “a violent romance”, Olives relates the tale of star-crossed lovers, the journalist Paul Stokes and Aisha Dajani, a worker at Jordan’s Ministry of Natural Resources. That the latter happens to be from a Palestinian family suspected of terrorist activities further complicates affairs when Paul is roped into spying on Daoud Dajani, an ambitious businessman with a stake in the bidding war for Jordan’s dwindling water supplies.
The intensity of Paul and Aisha’s love story is the novel’s defining strength with their intimacy heating up to a feverish pitch as disasters escalate and put them at risk. However, despite the emotive nature of McNabb’s descriptions during these scenes, the rest of the novel falls short as the plot makes haste for the finish line too soon at critical points.