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Arabian Nightmare [Paperback]

Robert Irwin
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
Price: 6.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

1 Jan 1998
The year is 1486 and English pilgrim and spy, Balian of Norwich steps into the city of Cairo and out of time. He becomes a victim of the curse of the Arabian nightmare, and finds himself in the company of strange companions, and can no longer distinguish between dreaming and reality.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 266 pages
  • Publisher: Dedalus Ltd; New edition edition (1 Jan 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1873982739
  • ISBN-13: 978-1873982730
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 318,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tour de Force 1 May 2002
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A book set in the Cairo of hundreds of years ago. The tale of a young English Pilgrim whose caravan travels through Cairo on the way to Jerusalem. Immediately he arrives in the city he is assailed by a form of insomnia which seems to give way to periods of narcoleptic unconsciousness in which his nightmares assume a vivid and tangible reality. These become progressively more disorientating, engulfing and traumatic - and whatever the condition causing them, it is clearly worsening. He has the Arabian Nightmare - a condition which gradually drives a man from his mind and inverts his real and imagined selves. As it becomes increasingly difficult for him to distinguish dream from waking state, the events unfolding in each start to impact and influence those in the other. For the reader, the confusion experienced by the protagonist is masterfully conveyed by the fact that the story is told by several different narrators in turn.
Despite all this, the book is not tiresome in the way that so many 'clever clever' books are ("Sound and the Fury" anyone? "Ulysses"?). Here you will be borne along by a pantheon of rich and varied characters: sinister arab mages, assassins, talking monkeys, David Lynch-esque dwarves, beautiful but deadly prostitutes, a dissipated mogul and his bored, prosmiscuous daughters; and many more.
Also, the settings are vivid and pungent and fascinating. Many are in the heads of the characters. The description of the caravanserai and the surrounding precincts of old Cairo, with their stench, over-crowding, disease and darkness, is claustrophobic and menacing. Yet, it is preferable to remain within their sweaty labrynthine warrens than to stray into the hinterland surrounding the great city, where this world and some other seem to merge...
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book to help you through a sleepless night... 15 July 2000
Format:Paperback
I was first attracted to this book by the references in the foreword to Calvino, Borges and the like - all writers for whom I have great respect. This book carries on that fine tradition of literary playfulness, monkeying around with the conventions of narrative and storytelling with an ease which is at once charming and breathtaking. Where this book really triumphs is in conveying the atmosphere of old Cairo - a city of mystery, dry sweat and moonlit deceit. The hero is a man lost to insomnia, condemned through the midnight hours to wander the narrow streets of a city in which he is a stranger, a city filled with fear and fictions in equal measure. The book is a tale of stories within stories, dreams within dreams - it has all the shiftless confusion of an uncertain nightmare combined with the easy grace of a child's fairytale. Irwin handles his storytelling with a deftness that always leaves the reader guessing - we echo the hero's wide-eyed wonder as we are led through a fantastical dreamscape of shifting stories which are funny and disturbing in equal measure. An excellent book which I would wholeheartedly recommend to any lovers of fiction. A book to keep you company through a sleepless night or two...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Very Mixed Bag 24 Jan 2012
Format:Paperback
Sometimes the impression you're ultimately left with from a book is based on how well it fulfilled its early promise, or the hype that surrounded it. That's not really fair, I suppose, because the book's quality shouldn't really be based on your expectations. However, it was very difficult not to be extremely disappointed on finishing this book, precisely because I expected so much from it. The early chapters were everything the reviews promised. The conceit was indeed magnificent. There were some ideas here that will stay with me for a long time. But as the book progressed, things got more and more random and capricious, and there seemed to be less and less point. Plotlines and developments were picked up and dropped seemingly at random, and the novel's strong early sense of direction and meaningfulness petered out into nothing. Finally, everything is supposedly revealed in a few pages of exposition near the end.

I don't need a tidy resolution -- I recently loved Meyrinck's the Golem, for instance -- and I'm happy for the journey to be the point, but towards the end the journey seemed a real slog, and the muddled confusedness seemed to be the author losing control of what the story was and where it was going, or perhaps having too many ideas and not fully developing any one, rather than any reflection of the subject matter or any design. And that's a real shame, because this could have been a masterpiece. Overall, three stars covers it. It's still a worthwhile read overall, but I'd have been as happy giving up about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through, maybe leaving like one of those unfinished dreams where you'll always wonder how it might have ended...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful atmospheric novel 4 Mar 2010
By Jezza
Format:Paperback
Beautiful atmospheric book - very evocative, like a lost book of the Arabian nights but with the odd modern anachronistic twist. The characters are a bit flat but the descriptions of the city make up for it. The knowledge that Irwin is actually a scholar of classical arabic and middle eastern history is comforting - where this verges on pastiche (as in some of the more complex story-within-a-story-within-a-story) sequence you know it's both authentic and knowing. I look forward to reading more of his fiction and perhaps the non-fiction too.
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