Saturday, February 09, 2008

Awaking with Blood in the Mouth

A pseudo-romantic satire on the "Arabian Nights", Robert Irwin's The Arabian Nightmare is a fun and engaging read. Intricate plot devices mirror the famous 1001 Nights and The Manuscript Found at Saragossa, challenging perceptions of reality through the adventures of a young Englishman in late 15th century Cairo.

The subject is reality and its manipulation through suggestion and dreams. As a medievalist, Irwin knows his setting, and the David Roberts etchings of Mamluk Cairo are a nice touch. The plot gains convolutions page by page, and I confess that I may not have puzzled out all its intricacies - is the narrator the talking ape on Yoll's shoulder, or the ventriloquist? If the later, what is his relation to the rest of the narrative? The title refers to a dream/disease causing excruciating but unremembered pain in the afflicted - could this be anything but life itself?

A delightful and rich reading experience, and deserving of a place on that exclusive list of books to be read again.

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