It has taken me three years, off and on, to read Robert Irwin's 'The Arabian Nightmare'. Not because it is a bad book, but because it is quite challenging. I ended up reading it whilst I was on the edge of dreams, and I found that my mind flowed over it and under it and round it. I can recognise its humour, its brilliance and its power.
The book is a story-within-a-story dream fantasy set in old Cairo of the fifteenth century.
It is a daring book with no real sense of time or unfolding plot. Here is a key to unlock it, perhaps:
'If dreams wished themselves to be remembered, they would be remembered. If they wished to be understood, they would be understood.... [The book] has ceased to be a book about the dream and has become a dream about the book.'
This is as true about Irwin's novel as it is about the mythical book within the story. The narrator figure who connects the reader to the dream-landscape dies before the end of the book, so who is the true narrator?
Ideas bubble through the work; insignificant detail suddenly assumes a central theme only to recede into irrelevance, all within ten pages. It is like watching bubbles rise and fall in boiling water.
Powerful and a first-class read.