Book Review: A Matter of Time (مسألة وقت) by Montasser El Qafash: The winner of the 2009 Sawares Award for Best Work of Literature, A Matter of Time is a novel that is hard to review. It has an intriguing premise: a young man, who works as a part-time tutor to university students, has a one-night stand with one of his students, only to discover a little while later that she had died three hours before coming to his apartment and sleeping with him. Baffled, the young man, who feels he is just coasting through life, starts an investigation into the young woman's past, which leads him to a friend of hers, a young woman named Nahed, who claims to have also been visited by the young woman's apparition.
Author Montasser El Qafash uses this central plot-line more or less as a McGuffin to delve deeper into his characters' lives and psyches. And herein lies the problem. His characters are pretty aimless, which I understand is intentional, since the whole novella seems to be a study of what happens to regular people, leading ordinary, mundane lives, when they are confronted by something that challenges their sense of reality. But aimless characters leading aimless lives don't make for a very gripping read. Which is not to say that this novel is bad. Far from it. It's atmospheric, stylishly written, and has a fascinating premise. But one can't help but feel that it would have made a great short story. As a novel, even a short one, it seems overlong and, ultimately, underwhelming.