I’d been meaning to read this for a long time. When I first began to read some stranger fiction – the first time I discovered the Dedalus imprint, I think – I saw The Arabian Nightmare recommended highly. It’s one of those books which has attained cult status – and pretty reasonably, too, given that it’s part sex manual, part spy story, part meditation on dreams and part talking-animal tale, all wrapped in the patterned carpets of Orientalism and stuffed inside a shaggy dog.
I suspect it’s one of those books which, by dint of the enormously evocative descriptions and obviously well-researched background – Irwin is a scholar and Cairo is certainly in his bailiwick – dazzles readers and seems, like the rope trick, to be something more than it is.
It is enjoyable. I can’t deny that. The beginning of the work creates atmosphere as quickly as anything I’ve read. But it doesn’t maintain interest as well as the narrative seems to think it does. (more…)