So, my initial thoughts prior to the discussion in two days time: This book is about a guy who is having some sort of a break-down. If it happened in this day and age he would be considering going to a shrink rather than a GP, he certainly had the money to do so. Apparently there are a lot of political allegories and this is what I hope will be clarified at the book group as I don't know a lot about Egyptian politics at the time. I really felt for his friend Othoman who has been in jail for 20 years and is horrified to see how complacent his friends have become while he was away. I also felt for his wife, Zeinab, who had been rejected by her Christian family when she decided to marry a Muslim.....and his daughter.....in fact everyone except Omar, the protagonist. He needed help, true, but he just couldn't appreciate the destruction he was leaving in his wake.
Edit: (8th Jan) - I just found a review in Amazon US by 'Gio', who proposes that "Omar.... is a stand-in for the author in asking those questions: what is worthwhile? does God exist? if so, what is He? what do I do now, having done nothing of worth so far? what would it be like to be truly happy? why do I care so much about happiness?" This makes a lot of sense to me, so many books are in some way semi-autobiographical, why shouldn't Naguib Mahfouz do the same thing?
Book group discussion tomorrow.....
Well, firstly, I didn't get much clarification regarding the political allusions. There was suggestion that his friends represented aspects of Egyptian life - Mustafa as the reasonably contented TV journalist, Othoman as the zealous objector, Omar himself as the dissatisfied well-to-do lawyer who would have preferred to follow his artistic talents. Secondly, for such a thin volume there seemed to be an awful lot of differing opinions about the book.
*possible spoilers ahead* Omar in his desperation turns to promiscuity but his improvement is short-lived. Then he feels brief happiness in a startling sunrise; finally he abandons his old life completely to live a hermit-style existence.
A rather strange novel that definitely benefited from being able to discuss it with others.