Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review

Book Review: Peek-A-Boo and other stories (بيكا - بوو و قصص أخرى) by Ehab Medhat: With its inane title and Japanese-Horror-Style cover artwork, you could mistake this collection of stories for cheap entertainment. Well, it isn't. Peek-A-Boo and other stories by Ehab Medhat is a surprisingly effective collection of tales that covers a range of genres.

The collection consists of nine stories, which include: The opening title story - about a young Egyptian woman who adopts a young girl with seemingly paranormal abilities - is a strange choice for an opening tale, since, despite being an effective and occasionally clever allegory for spousal abuse, it's far from being the strongest of the bunch; The President's Guard, a neat psychological suspense tale about a poor young man who - after failing to join the Egyptian Police Academy and fulfill his dream of becoming one of the President's personal bodyguards - comes undone and plots to have his moment of glory, anyway he can; I saw The Devil, an intriguing tale about child abuse and the dark side of humanity, which succeeds in being grimly unnerving; The Ring Of No Laws, a disturbing, clever story, which seemingly is about a weird wrestling match between a man and a woman, but which turns out to be something else entirely; I Didn't Kill My Wife, my personal favorite, a strange, atmospheric crime tale about police brutality, psychosis, the nature of love, and much more. It is a sprawling, ambitious tale, that, alone, justifies buying this collection and proves that Ehab Medhat is a talent to watch.

But that doesn't mean the collection is devoid of duff stories. Far from it. A Matter Of Principle, about a psychiatrist who suspects his wife of infidelity, is a self-indulgent exercise in cliched atmospherics. The Security Guard is a bland tale that thinks itself much cleverer than it really is. While 'Ar'Ar's Daughter, about a poor girl who wishes to grow up to become a pediatrician, is a pretentious little tale that goes nowhere. Medhat also makes the questionable choice of closing his collection with The Old Man And The Shovel, an ambiguous horror story that ends with a cliffhanger!

Throughout the collection one gets the feeling that Medhat is a talented and imaginative writer who is cutting his teeth on these stories. The quality of the stories waver, but the craftsmanship is always there, even when the plots leave something to be desired. But his true accomplishment lies in succeeding in bringing the Egyptian suspense tale screaming into the 21st century. His characters, for the most part, feel modern and like they live in the real world. And his references to popular Arabic TV channels and other pop-culture markers make his stories unabashedly populist in nature (much like Stephen King, whom Medhat quotes on the very first page of the collection, and who was one of the first horror writers in history to make his characters continuously reference pop-culture and thus ground his stories in the real world).

While it has its share of weak stories, this is an entertaining collection from an Egyptian writer who doesn't shy away from wearing his influences on his sleeves (which, arguably, include Stephen King and other popular horror and suspense writers), and who isn't afraid to experiment with different styles and forms; something which makes him a versatile and somewhat daring Egyptian author. I for one am looking forward to watching him grow as a writer.

* Visit the author's official website for more info about the book and where to buy.

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