At 18, Tom escapes ordinariness in small town Australia for Melbourne and a flat in a strange block named Cairo. There he meets the magnetic Max Cheever, and is drawn into his circle of bohemian artists and dreamers. But soon Tom is ensnared in a plot to steal a million dollar Picasso masterpiece. Among undependable forgers and violent art dealers, Tom trusts only in Max – even as he falls hopelessly in love with his beautiful wife…
Narrated by: Damien Warren-Smith; Length: 8 hrs and 31 mins
Release Date:03/04/2014; Publisher: Whole Story Audiobooks
Purchased with an Audible.com.au credit
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
Chris Womersley’s Cairo is both an enthralling fictionalisation of an unsolved 1986 Melbourne art heist and a heady, literary coming-of-age story.
With engaging innocence Tom’s narrative, told in reflection, includes colourful descriptions of people, time and place, but feels awash with nostalgia and immersed in sepia tones.
Let’s face it: the rot set in early. Much later, Sally (dear Sally) told me that without a past a person has no character, and she might have been right. Now, perhaps, I have too much character.
The action is centred around an apartment building called Cairo (a real building apparently still in existence) which exudes a life force of its own – a beacon, or apparent safe haven, for the bohemian set and those otherwise marginalised by society.
The smooth tones of Damien Warren-Smith’s audio narration felt perfectly suited to the characters within this reflective tale – listen to an audio sample.
Despite being filled with parochial references to time and place, such as music industry personalities in their earlier years, e.g. Michael Hutchence and Molly Meldrum, Cairo’s broader coming-of-age story exudes a timeless quality.
Adolescence is a swirl of superiority and crushing doubt. Nowadays the so-called experts fret over epidemics of low self-esteem in our teenagers but, really, it is one of the many necessary planks used for the raft that transports us from youth to adulthood. Without it, we are nothing.
I have great admiration for Womersley’s coupling of the art heist with a coming-of-age story and unlocking great symbolism apparent. The mystery of the heist propelled the otherwise languorous prose of the narrators dream-like search for deeper meaning in both relationships and his place in the world.
Like paintings, people are taken at face value but contain a host of secrets for those who know how to tease them out; the task of the art connoisseur is akin to that of a trial judge sorting lies from the truth. There is instinct and there is science. Were you truly painted by so and so? In what year? With which materials? In essence: are you what you claim to be?
In Cairo Chris Womersley has combined both entertainment and intellectual stimulation, with a nostalgic tone that will resonate with a 30yr+ Australian audience.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
Genre: Drama, Literature, Historical, Romance, Mystery, Audio
This review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2015.
Chris Womersley‘s fiction and reviews have appeared in Granta, The Best Australian Stories 2006, 2010 and 2011, Griffith REVIEW, Meanjin and The Age. His debut novel, The Low Road, won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. His second novel, Bereft, won the Australian Book Industry Award for Literary Fiction and the Indie Award for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, The Age fiction prize and the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal. Internationally it was longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012, and was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award 2012.
Other reviews of Cairo: