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Thursday, 29 October 2020

Book Review - On Lover’s Conditions

While showing some promise, Ahmed Helmy’s first book of short stories is mired in confusion

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Thursday 15 Oct 2020
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Men Ahwal Al Mohebeen (On Lover’s Conditions) by Ahmed Helmy, (Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation GEBO), 2020

The first work of any young writer is always a challenge. Ahmed Helmy decided to take that challenge in his first collection of short stories, “On Lovers’ Conditions”. In trying to find his own voice, the writer tried various styles, ideas and ways of expression, mostly about how lovers feel, in his 31 short stories.

Some of the stories did not make sense; others were too short to get his ideas across to the reader. Trying to extract the wisdom or the point of the story is sometimes quite hard, the writer wrote in the abstract in good linguistic style, but nonetheless without reaching a full picture or a snapshot or an expression of a certain human condition as he attempted.

An example of a “confusing” and very short story, if we might call it that, is a piece entitled Fog. It goes: “After a short trip, he realised some facts. He was half-full. The fear slipped into him as much as he gained heat. Disarray still rules. No certainty in spite of all the signs. The past pile is as it was and a handful is added each month. The dream of hovering didn’t die; it just lay in a far corner, pale almost ailing. Dreams fluctuate from hallucinations and nightmares, hugs are wishful daydreams and a free truth in far sleeps.

In spite of the fog, the trembling fingers and the loose nerves, he holds the threads, moves them gently and in order to keep them from escaping his hand, he rolls them around his wrist, and when his head is suffocated with the chain he leaves it scared, he is saddened and restarts the whole process again.”

Such a text cannot fall under the short story category. It might be an example of absurdity or incomplete ideas. What would the reader understand from such phrases put together and given a title in a book? In my opinion, the reader has to form his own story after reading it, if he finds it suitable to give it another thought. A text full of metaphors making it difficult to understand without more context, and this is just one example of many texts written in the same way. Reader, please invent your own story.

The longer stories, however, have more substance. “The criminal” tells the story of a man who falls in love with three women simultaneously and the whole piece is an internal dialogue with the reader asking his/her opinion if he is really a criminal or not. The writer stated that this character is like a dog chasing his tail; he never reaches it and can’t stop chasing it. The first lady was a Facebook relation that materialised in the form of dates and emotions expressed. It was the woman who expressed admiration and care for that person that she found on social media. He, on the other hand, took no firm position; he was just neutral toward the woman that he thought he loved. Even though her story was told first, she was second chronologically.

While he was recovering from his previous relation, he met the online girl, then the blast from the past returns and he is head over heels for her. She was in a relation with another man and he had that new online girl. The hard question was asked and the girl said getting back to him was never happening. The third girl was introduced after the second one admitted her love to him, another platonic relation that he escapes as well. An accidental meeting with the first girl made him realise that he does not love either of them. So he breaks up with both of them, with no remorse. The whole story is told in the past tense and we find the main character five years after these incidents occurred. Just reading the summary of that novella brings confusion to the reader, which is a theme that seems to be intertwined with the writer's ideas, texts and stories.

"On Lover’s Conditions”, as mentioned, is a first attempt for a young writer that has shown some promise in some of his stories but still needs to work on his style, originality and ideas. Refining his talent can come only by getting more clarity in the storytelling side of his stories. 

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