Beer in the Snooker Club, by Waguih Ghali Originally published 1964
Historical Fiction, Literary
Settings: Egypt, UK
[CWs: references to war, torture]
This is the only novel ever published by Waguih Ghali, before his death from suicide in 1969. The novel is semi-autobiographical and the writing feels tinged with a very real struggle beyond disaffection.
The book takes place around the time of the Suez war; the narrator, Ram, lives in Westernised Egypt - he is comfortably rich, provided for by friends and family without a need to work, well-educated, and successful with women. Yet, he is clearly unhappy - he drifts through life dissatisfied and lacking in drive. He is affected by the political situation and the poverty outside of the city, but appears to resort to books and discussions on the topic while his friends take a more active stance in trying to make a difference. He all at once reveres European culture, but also has a disdain for it that seemingly brings out self-loathing, which comes to a head when he goes to stay in England and is met with bigotry and narrow-mindedness.
I was a little apprehensive as to whether I would enjoy this one as the blurb describes the protagonist as an Egyptian Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye - a book I think I read too late in life and consequently found difficult to connect with and almost insufferable at times. Luckily, I did get a lot more from Beer in the Snooker Club, however I still feel the comparison is apt. Ram acts out in ways that appear to show an immature angst, a spoilt carelessness towards others. However, underneath this is a very raw and understandable anger at injustice, a bereftness of identity and a need for purpose. There is not much in the way of plot, but the book reads as great tragicomic character study and insight into the political situation of the time.
I did find the novel quite challenging in places - there are lots of references to political figures of the time, not just in Egypt but the West as well, which I lacked the context and awareness for. While this reinforced Ram's intellectualism, I feel like I didn't always fully grasp the meaning of his discussions, and while I attempted to read around the events of the time, having to do so took me out of the book a little.