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Carnival by Rawi Hage – review

For The Guardian:

This tale of a taxi driver’s nocturnal meanderings shows lyricism, compassion and great human spirit

I enjoyed this book in so many ways that it is tempting to urge you to eschew any further reading and download it immediately or set off for the nearest decent bookshop, however many hundreds of miles that may now be. But Carnival is not a masterpiece – it is a rich and often beautiful, brave, engrossing, intelligent, literate, funny and very human novel, yet it is not quite as fine as it hopes to be.

Hage won the lucrative Impac prize for his first novel, De Niro’s Game. And the spirit of De Niro also hovers over Carnival, his third, because this is the story of a taxi driver: “a man of contradictions” named Fly. Fly was born in the circus. His mother “nursed [him] through … the follies of clowns and the bitter songs of an old dwarf who prophesied for [him] a life of wandering among spiders and beasts”. Which is more or less exactly what Fly now does – criss-crossing the nameless city, mostly by night, picking up and participating in the lives of his various fares: drug dealers, prostitutes, strippers, debauchees, feuding lovers and drunken tourists. The “spiders”, we are told, are the cab drivers who “wait at taxi stands for the dispatcher’s call … for things to come and ages to pass”; but the flies are “wanderers, operators who … navigate the city, ceaseless and aimless, looking for raising arms to halt their flight”.

 

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