by Naguib Mahfouz Translated by Hutchins & Kenny
Category: Fiction / General
498 pages; ISBN: 0552995800
Rating: 5/10 (Ratings explained)
The dust jacket for this comes festooned with hyperbole comparing Mahfouz to Tolstoy, Flaubert, Proust etc. This immediately raises suspicions that the dead hand of political correctness is at work, an impression not dispelled by reading the book.
"Palace Walk" is, dauntingly, the first book in a trilogy covering the lives of an Egyptian family through the first half of the last century.This one ends in the immediate aftermath of WWI and I doubt I'll be going any further.
Mahfouz was disgracefully attacked for defending Salman Rushdie although hardline Muslims are unlikely to appreciate his own work. Where "Palace Walk" is at its strongest is in exposing the hpocrisy of Arab men who use Islam to justify oppression, particularly of women, yet feel free to ignore its strictures where it suits them.The central character Ahmad is a domestic tyrant who imprisons his wife and daughters in the house and yet spends every evening in drunken debauchery with his friends. His eldest son by an earlier marriage, Yasin the only one who knows - and approves of - his father's double standards - is an indolent hpocrite himself. He resents his mother's divorce as an intolerable insult to himself yet twice attempts to rape a household servant. The youngest son Kamal is a model of childish selfishness. This is well observed and interesting, aided by an excellent translation but it is not enough to sustain interest over 498 pages.
The excessive length is my main criticism of the book. I don't object to epic novels but do expect some character development and dramatic incident to keep me interested. None of the family change significantly; despite the momentous events around them they seem stuck in a vacuum and as a result every crisis such as the wife's disobedient venture outside or Yasin's denunciation as a traitor resolves itself anticlimactically with the old order being restored.The same points are repeated over and over again to an almost sadistic degree.
Buy Palace Walk at amazon.co.uk