Cairo: By Louis Armand, 363 pgs. By Sean Arenas

Sep 25, 2014

My opinion of Louis Armand’s novel, Cairo, can be paraphrased with a shrug. Summarizing the plot is like translating hieroglyphics. The novel follows five separate characters as they navigate the terrain of this farcical cyberpunk world. From the get-go, the reader is swamped with way too much information (latitude and longitude coordinates, invented lingo, and symbols, such as a plus, moon, and square, which designate the character for each chapter). Yet, it’s difficult to distinguish each character as they are defined externally, never as realized individuals with unique motivations. (I’ve been able to deduce that one character is a scientist of sorts and another a criminal working for an eccentric pornographer, but why they’re all farting around is beyond me.)

Cairo longs to be a surreal mishmash of sci-fi and noir, but every glimmer of coherency dead ends into a MacGuffin. (I’m reminded of Jonathan Lethem’s shaky hybrid genre novel, Gun, With Occasional Music.) This is especially frustrating given that there are twenty chapters per character, a whopping hundred chapters total. Sadly, each chapter seems to be a piece that never fits into a larger puzzle, instead meandering and detouring for the novel’s lengthy duration.

Although well-written—and often painfully wordy—Cairo is an exercise in poetic incomprehensibility that quickly becomes exhausting. Think Thomas Pynchon without the irreverent sense of humor and luring rabbit hole premises. By the end, I was left scratching my head raw and wishing I had CliffsNotes to keep me on track. –Sean Arenas (Equus, BirkbeckCollege, 43 Gordon Square, WC1H0PD, United Kingdom)