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STANLEY KUBRICK DOES A REMAKE OF THE MAN FROM HONG KONG WITH A BILLION-DOLLAR BUDGET

What the voters for 2014’s Not-the-Booker Prize shortlist had to say about Louis Armand’s CAIRO (photo: poster art for The Man from Hong Kong, dir. Brian Trenchard Smith, 1975):

Whatever else I might have discovered if I’d had the chance, I’d still nominate CAIRO by Louis Armand (Equus Press) for the short list because I truly, deeply, enjoyed it. Like Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco and David Mitchell, Armand gives us the novel-as-puzzle (jigsaw, mosaic) and an eccentric cast (cast like dice) of characters, which is both intellectually gratifying and just plain fun. Like Mitchell, Armand gives us the globe (Cairo, New York, London, etc) and past/present/future as palimpsest, and like Mitchell, he’s rather good at creating heroic female characters. That, however, is where the similarities end. There is a distinctly republican feel to CAIRO, an injection of sanguine antipodean pragmatism into more ‘nervous’ european, post-imperialist concerns that is very refreshing, humorous, a little nasty, fun.

CAIRO, offers a new spin on the postmodern detective tale; it is reminiscent of Poe, of Borges, of Auster and Gombrowicz, Highsmith and Miéville. It is very much a story of urban noir gone global, moving from first world cities Sydney, New York, London until it finally reaches the city that gives it its title and direction, Cairo. Perhaps this futuristic CAIRO is the historical mystery at the heart of an impossible post-revolutionary world that we have a chance to glimpse in Armand’s visionary book. Only in Western/Eastern synthesis do we find the hint of a contemporary political and social redemption, one tenuously wrought on the twists of accidental encounters and the piecing together of personal consciousness across the borders of the twin contemporary religions of nationality and individuality.

Much has been written about Louis Armand’s affinities with noir fiction and cinema. His eloquence dealing with the sordid reminds one of Raymond Chandler, and in CAIRO his cinematic cuts from short chapter to short chapter containing seemingly-unrelated plots remind one of the best of film spy thrillers. But imagine the hallucinatory opening of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” punctuating a whole book; imagine the fog and smoke darkening the beginning of “Bleak House,” the dust penetrating “Our Mutual Friend” darkening our whole planet. Imagine an author as familiar with the landscapes of New York, Northern Africa, London, Prague, the Australian outback as Dickens was with London, The Thames, and Rochester. Imagine the latter’s 19th-century grime become radioactive, dusting our globe. Then imagine a frustrating and destructive conspiracy like Dickens’ Chancery insinuating itself everywhere, but armed and dangerously aware of all current technologies, and characters’ lives caught up in this conspiracy they understand no better than Chancery’s victims understood their tormentor. All this comes to you, no at you, in a complex style that blends staccato phrases, short sentences, deadpan observation of amazing phenomena with apt quotations from philosophy, and with an instructive but never bothersome range of technical information. A gripping, lively, intelligent novel both rooted in tradition and absolutely current. And hip: why give up style when all the lights might go out?

One of the most original and exhilarating novels I’ve read in a long time. A blend of genres and styles, CAIRO reads like a narrative that is also a film that suddenly returns to narrative mode again. At time they coalesce, as in a dream. Everything in it is familiar yet strange. Oddly familiar. And horrific at times. Not for the faint-hearted. Characters are individuals going on about their daily lives (no matter how bizarre these turn out to be …) and at the same time pieces in a larger puzzle, which may or may not be connected after all. Reading CAIRO is like, in the words of one of the characters, “entering a space that’s precariously structure and impermanent. Whose coordinates and logic are shifting and barely decipherable. In which it might easily be possible to become lost.” If it sounds like the experience of reading Pynchon or watching Cronenberg (two of the familiar echoes), it is, and yet it isn’t — it’s also something different, something other. As one of its reviewers puts it, with all its sci-fi and comic-book elements, CAIRO ultimately offers a serious exploration of “the collapse of collective and individual identity as a result of corporate damage.” Yes, that too.

A novel with many curious and titillating qualities. On its back-cover its summary reads, ‘What do a crashed satellite, a string of bizarre murders and a time-warp conspiracy have in common? Welcome to CAIRO where the future’s just a game and you’re already dead.’ This gives some idea of the plot, although that is not necessarily its most interesting quality. More intriguing are the ways this novel evades easy classification into this or that genre (among others, it has been labelled acid noir, detective, magical realist, psychogeographic exploration of our contemporary surveillance society). Simultaneously highly structured, with 100 short chapters, CAIRO also lures the reader through innumerable alleyways, false turns, and other narratives, interwoven like hilariously sinister Möbius strips. These weird and warped intersections both transgress the book’s episodic structure and instantiate a far more layered and inchoate scaffolding. Like — Strange Attractors – (not only the title of one of Armand’s poetry collections (2003, Salt) but also a term from physics describing a kind a fractalized, feedback loop — CAIRO unfolds in a paradoxical equilibrium of many paradoxical directions, always somehow pointing back to itself. It is both challenging and engaging, disturbing and comic, sinister and absurd, continually shifting and viscerally direct. A perfect candidate for the Not The Booker Prize, not only for its ungraspable qualities, but also because it is exemplary of its publisher Equus’ aesthetics and uncanny, consistent knack for experimental, interstitial, uncategorizable, curious writing (for example, it also published the first English translation of two relatively unknown hybrid texts by George Bataille (Louis XXX, Equus, 2013).

Louis Armand’s CAIRO (Equus) is something of a throwback to an era when literature and film were unashamedly, and unironically, dripping with detail and rich with attitude. Existing in a dizzying landscape between science fiction and noir, Cairo flits across maps geographic and generic, leading the reader on a race through wild fictional imagination and harrowing geopolitical speculation. Not-the-Booker should be shouting the praises of CAIRO and small presses like Equus from the rooftops—leave it to the other guys to pick something timid, commercial, predictable.

CAIRO is a disturbing psycho-drama that verges on being a thriller, intercut with elements of bizarre humor. It forces you to experience the worlds it describes. A portrait of our present hyper reality in which opposing futures simultaneously exist and abolish each other. CAIRO is a series of interlinking stories, but distributed across continents and dimensions in time. Disorientation is the underpinning logic of this novel that forces us to examine our preconceptions of what is normal and what should be.

Hard to find this kind of fusion-lit combining highbrow sci-fi with semi-noir mystery; nearly impossible to find it done well. Surprising is the attention to dialogue and detail, chockful of sentences like “Between 8th and 9th a man with handlebar mustache and black leather kilt walked by eyeing him.” Hell yeah it’s a romp, but it’s a serious, time-shifting, corpse-bumping romp as Joblard the anti-hero lurches through a grungy kaleidoscope of a world.

What do an albino, a Wozzie Burger, and rats have in common, and since when is daytime deadlier than the night? In CAIRO, everything is connected, and each chapter gives you precise coordinates, but who has the time to look those up when the narrative is as addictive as any well-wrought conspiracy theory? It will suck you into a vortex of places, flying objects, deaths, times, questions, and you’ll wish you were half as versed in physics and in words as the author. A successful combination of Orwellian pessimism and Wachovskian excess, CAIRO is also a hilarious read, exposing the inevitability & absurdity of corporations.

This has been on my to read list for a while and as its made the list I’d be loathe not to give it a mention ahead of other books that I’m less likely to read. Armand, a truly international writer should have a wider audience – previous books like Breakfast at Midnight and Canicule have shown him alive to the minutiae of an international demi-monde. Lost daughters, young adventurers, but escaping its noir trappings through a brilliantly intense observational prose. CAIRO repeats these trappings, and his usual modernist fragmentary style, but sets it into a dystopian future. Haven’t time to have read it before the deadline, but from first few pages I think it would be an intriguing choice for the shortlist.

I’m well-familiar with the output of Louis Armand and a huge fan of both his Breakfast at Midnight, a foray into the hitherto unknown genre of acid noir, and Canicule, his take on recit cineaste. It’s refreshing, with this background knowledge, to turn to CAIRO, and see a work where his versatile talent seems to take yet another unexpected twist. Where Raymond Chandler, Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard used to sit in council and excogitate, now Philip K. Dick, Mickey Spillane & Quentin Tarantino roam freely – and wildly…

A cinematic reading experience, with a fast paced avant-garde montage offering a dizzying account of late capitalism’s specular society by parading a set of scenes and sounds that come together to form a panorama of a dystopian culture, caught between consumption, alienation and the redeeming personhood of a group of motley characters—all struggling to master of the experience of postmodernity or at least to give voice to it. Particularly compelling is the occasional narrator, Osborne, a New Yorker whose attempt to give coherence to a fragmented world is paradoxically and often comically more successful than any other character because of his chronic mental illness! As always, Armand presents a fiercely visceral book, one that poised between the anomie of the present day and making poetry of it.

Louis Armand’s CAIRO (Equus) is by far the most cleverly riveting book that I’ve read in a while. As in his previous book, Breakfast at Midnight, the author takes a punch at your sensibilities – however, what a rewarding and pleasurable act of masochism reading the novel(s) is.

It’s hard to explain or depict, as the text is both a melange of genres (thriller, sci-fi, etc.) explored by being put next to each other and over each other, and a mixture of speech registers, which hit each other in an ever surprising manner, making your reading a voyage into the unexpected. It makes an example of how the language and the storyline can work together and work each other.

Although sometimes brash in tone and graphic in its depiction of violence (headless corpses galore), Louis Armand’s book was a captivating read for me. I especially enjoyed that he didn’t limit himself to simply ticking off the sci-fi genre boxes, much as we all like them. Especially his female characters were strong, no-nonsense, down-to-earth characters coping as best they could in a world dominated by male zaniness if not outright insanity. Unlike anything I’ve read this year, a highly recommended read for (not only) sci-fi buffs like myself.

Beware the savage jaw. The future is here now, and it’s gonna eat you up and shit you out like a half-digested Wozzie Burger. Louis Armand as the Swiftian prophet of the Virtual Age? CAIRO is the best psychogeographic sci-fi detective novel I’ve read. An original take on the genetically engineered, pornographic surveillance state that we are living in right now (in case you hadn’t noticed). A brilliant rendition of an extended hallucinatory state that brings to mind Cronenberg’s “Videodrome”, or the terrifyingly warped meta-realities of J.G Ballard. Dark, frightening, hilarious and utterly gripping.

A true indie (Equus Press) which deserves the win. Armand’s prodigious gifts as a storyteller, wordsmith, imagineer and general fiend are copiously and carnivorously on display in this wonderful, horrifying book. CAIRO is a vivid, dizzying and ultimately exhilarating exploration of the global nightmare and our big ideas about mental illness and democracy. Raw and ruthless, yet richly detailed and human, Armand takes a circular saw to the dusty corpse of western narcissism and the dread afflictions that torment and beguile the contemporary psyche. Peopled with a staggering array of the doomed, depraved and flat-out zorched, everybody’s on the last gasp and time’s running short. It’s forceful and convincing – and fist-pumpingly hilarious. Armand is a formidable, first-class writer.

A rich, breathtaking jigsaw puzzle of 5 stories from a postapocalyptic virtual future that seems only all too plausible, populated by hard-boiled 50s noir characters, it may remind you of Neal Stephenson or perhaps the film Looper. Armand’s CAIRO is carved out of sparkling antimatter and with a twist that will puzzle you for days afterward. Before Roko’s Basilisk makes you pray someone switched off that particular possible world you happen to live in, make sure you get enfolded into this. It was a rare find from an unexpected corner and I am very happy to pass it on.

This is a canny collage of all the dystopian, future-as-present (or as eternity), technology-is-eating-us riffs that have been broadcast to us all, one way or another, for at least forty years now. The best works of the noir genre, which Armand is fascinated by, carefully detail the ephemeral, inducing a heightened awareness of the present that later crystallizes into a perfect time capsule. Armand cadges from all the capsules that came before him to convey a world full of competing machines and constantly beckoning screens. The particular cachet that only the Not the Booker prize can bestow belongs to something like this.

A terrifying and mad mix of sci-fi and international conspiracy.

CAIRO is a roller-coaster of a read, exploding genres just as easily as heads, collapsing fact with fiction as well as alien satellites with futurist Chinese female killer-robots. And wherever you think you’ve escaped, there’s a concealed camera watching a rat gnawing on what’s remained of you. Stanley Kubrick does a remake of The Man from Hong Kong with a billion-dollar budget…

Between a maelstrom of different locations around the world, damaged characters seem to give the sense that everything is about to end. The separation between people has become acute, and the abuse taking place right under people’s noses is commented on and displayed for all to see. A violent disregard for the well-being of one’s fellow man becomes a universal language. This text is at times non-narrative and highlights the drawbacks of a current sensationalist culture, while at the same time exposing these themes as wildly entertaining.

A page-turner that left me breathless. Though not strictly a character study (my personal favourite), the five interwoven stories do feature some unforgettable types: the small-scale hit man Joblard in London, the paranoia-driven Osborne in New York, the half-aborigine Lawson in the Australian outback – each of these left a mark and kept the reading experience enjoyable throughout.

More genre-bending from Mr. Armand. A blend of existential horror and black comedy. This is NOT a book for the faint-hearted. Time seems to literally warp while reading this, like plugging coordinates into Google Earth and bending space by mapping where all the characters are at any given moment. CAIRO is a kind of high-octane video game you get sucked into without a rule book and someone else, an epileptic or a psychopath, operating the controls. It reminded me a bit of Cronenberg’s eXistenZ. While there are elements of science fiction and bizarro comic-book humor, this is a ‘serious’ novel, concerned with the breakdown in collective and individual identity as a result of mass corporate damage. The world of CAIRO isn’t so much a construct as a de-struct. If it’s a game, the only prize is you get to play again. If you lose, you have to keep playing again anyway. No happy endings in Armand-land.

At some strange level Louis Armand’s CAIRO hacks the reader’s preconceptions and associations, and reprograms them with something vile, something cold, something that breathes and eats with the rhythm of the digital age. The style is challenging, but well worth the effort, as CAIRO‘s imagery and sensibility is fresh and dark, a real neon cocktail for the debris-ridden post-capitalist environment. The characters resonate very well, and each scene gives off a type of hyper-real vibe that keeps the narrative running along at breakneck speed. The plot spans vast stretches of time and space, and still manages to take time off for some old-fashioned brutality.

CAIRO is sci-fi for a postmodern audience who know their GPS co-ordinates but aren’t so sure where they’ve been or where they’ll end up. Fractured into five parallel narratives from different locations around the globe, this book is an adrenaline-fuelled adventure through bizarre underworlds that may, or may not all be hyperlinked. The promise of a conspiracy theory is tantalizingly tossed around but the author knows better than to let you have it. Brief chapters, enigmatic titles and a cast of enigmatic bastard characters keep you always guessing what’s next. Sassy prose that moves with agility – the pace is as frenetic, the focus as dispersed as the internet age itself. Armand’s novel recalls the best of Neal Stephenson, Raymond Chandler and William Gibson, but is a concoction all of its own.

CAIRO is simultaneously gut-busting, disturbing, and mischievous. Fast-paced and fun, CAIRO is an exciting sci-fiction/detective/futuristic/dystopian novel filled with images that can’t help but stick. Rollicking and romping its way through a seemingly sinister world, CAIRO balances a sense of the unknown with wry humor, taking the reader around the globe. Yet while CAIRO unfolds in diverse settings, the novel nevertheless promotes an ominous sense of same-ness, pointing toward the problems of our globalized, homogenized world, no matter the location. A wide range of characters infuse CAIRO with a series of convoluted plots, each subtly speeding toward the revelation of a mystery that’s preoccupying everyone.

A grim and hilarious reckoning with the future and how we got there. Jonathon Swift on a crack binge channeling James Ellroy on a transnational time-warping blitz through the contemporary hallucination and these strangest of end days. Compulsive reading, relentless, unlike anything you have read but uncomfortably close to the life you’ve been living in some fractured corner of the moment.

CAIRO is an anachronism waiting to happen, a black hole, a black-market book, a demolition of the corporate oasis, a walk through the city of the dead. Transnational but never global, CAIRO is also what WILL happen if things go on as they are… A novel of ruins. The name of a place. A return to zero, the apex of all possible futures. Psycho-pharmaceutical biocapitalism is tomorrow’s news; so ours too. CAIRO: a perfect encapsulation of what it means also to be living in the end times.

A riotous exploitation sci-fi noir whose action shifts from London to New York to the Australian outback, Prague and a post-apocalyptic Cairo. This novel has it all, con-men, evil doctors, rats, Egyptian artifacts, meteors, time-traveling kung-fu assassins, dwarfs, exploding heads, soy vindaloo and a long list of other extraordinary renditions. Think: William Gibson meets The Incredibly Strange Creatures, with a touch of Paul Auster.

Louis Armand’s CAIRO fuses themes and beats from Armand’s earlier novels: a murder, followed by a mystery left for men out of their element to decipher. Cinema bubbles throughout, as well, as Armand’s characters employ film tropes to handle their increasingly odd situation. And yet, while these ideas resurface, CAIRO’s aura is nothing like that of Breakfast at Midnight and Canicule, for while those settled on a far more serious plain, CAIRO is downright playful.

A dark, challenging, dystopian novel that is addictive to read. It warps the boundaries of genre, time, identity and place. It’s like being sucked into a video game where you have to figure out the rules on the go. You hit the ground running and hold on till the end with this novel. I’ve not read anything quite like it before.

This is a book that reflects the world as it’s really happening and that most literary fiction I’ve read still pretends is sci-fi. It also explores gender in ways that aren’t trite or reductive. Lots of “trans-” going on here, but not the usual kinds. There’s an amazing fluidity about everything: place, time, history as something like a door you can kick down or a portal you can go through into different scenarios of our present virtual reality.

CAIRO by Louis Armand is the best book I’ve read this year! Funny and engaging!

After years of writing poetry and theory, Louis Armand turned his attention to prose fiction and it was a lucky decision indeed. Breakfast at Midnight and Canicule were masterpieces, books that displayed great sense of humour, excellent command of language and, last but not least, penchant for the noir and decadent ideas that make his texts so attractive. CAIRO is his most ambitious novel so far, the clash of narrative voices creates a dark labyrinth stretching across the globe, encompassing cultures, histories and futures, capturing “in 3D the underbelly of the underbelly” (Benjamin Woodard in Numéro Cinq).

A smash of a read, a completely off-the-wall and in-your-face collage of stories taking place on four different continents (and arguably, in outer space), in the past, present, and future, and ultimately brought to converge, somehow, somewhere.

 

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About Equus Press

EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.

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"Modernity today is not in the hands of the poets, but in the hands of the cops" // Louis Aragon
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“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” // Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollack, 27 January 1904
August 2014
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