Adrift on the Nile: Egypt's Less Than Zero by way of Crime and Punishment

The way the disillusioned twenty- and thirty-something characters in Naguib Mahfouz's short novel, Adrift on the Nile, are collectively forced to confront the consequences of their reckless, amoral actions (a murder and its cover up), rooted as they were in the fashionable nihilistic climate of the times among the Egyptian elite, circa late-1960s, mostly citizens who dearly missed the old ways when art and Western philosophy were still esteemed by those in power, in the pre-revolutionary days of leisure before Gamul Abdul Nasser kicked out the British and imposed a more rigorous Muslim ethic among Egypt's populace, reminded me a lot how Raskolnikov, from Crime And Punishment, had to confront the consequences he created for himself by committing what amounted to an "experimental" murder: A murder committed both to enact through his crime the contrived "truth" of an inhumane ideology that Dostoyevski was skewering at the time, and also to test (unconsciously) whether or not he'd completely lost his Christian conscience.  Of course, in Adrift on the Nile, the aimless young adults (Amis, Layla Zaydan, Ahmad Nasr, Mustafa Rashid, Ali al-Sayyid, Khalid Azuzz) who'd gather every night aboard a houseboat docked on the Nile River to smoke kif or hashish and enjoy their pseudo-intellectual/philosophical banter, haven't been so premeditated as Raskolnikov nor ever had anything that could be construed as "Christian" to begin with, but when the "accident" happens and the cover up ensues, it's clear that, like Raskolnikov, they've got their own ideology to protect and "test".
The characters of Adrift on the Nile prefigure, by about two decades, the morally disgusting type of blasé, coked-up creeps made fashionable in the excessive '80s by Bret Easton Ellis in what amounts to his own unique Beverly Hills version/vision of Adrift on the Nile, his equally as disturbing and no less murderous (if not as artistically rendered) debut, Less Than Zero.

Comparing Mahfouz to Ellis is rather insulting to Mahfouz, obviously (like trying to compare the Pyramids to an ephemeral sand castle) but both novels, nevertheless, regardless of the literary merits of who authored them, bear such a striking thematic resemblance involving a lot of ennui and drug intake and nothing much happening (until somebody -- ooops! -- gets iced) that the comparison can't help but practically shout itself off the page for those familiar with both novels.

Mahfouz, of course, could differentiate and then articulate the subtleties and nuances of degradation and depravity among his set of elite counter-cultured losers more masterfully than Ellis, whose obnoxious numps all mostly bore the same set of debased characteristics (light cigarettes, fuck indiscriminately, ingest a pharmacy's-worth of amphetamines per day, say "dude" a lot) thus making them nearly indistinguishable addicted automatons one from another, so that his (Mahfouz's) characters are far more interesting and complicated which can't help but make for a more surprising -- and suspenseful -- plot.  But, again, both books scream their uncannily similar nihilistic message out at the top of their hash filled lungs so well that I really wonder if maybe Mahfouz and Ellis were somehow pseudonymous or at least telekinetic belonging to some psychic masonic brotherhood somewhere, even despite the former being deceased now for almost a decade.

The point of this post?  There is no point.  No point other than perhaps this post is meaningless and ultimately an empty, unsatisfying pursuit that might drive me to take drugs and drink excessively, that I might numb myself from the empty reality of existence ahead.  Like the reality ahead for the characters of Adrift on the Nile and Less Than Zero, and for that classic character (though ultimately redeemed), Raskolnikov.


  1. No, I don't think you will be driven to take drugs and drink to avoid the empty reality of existence. You enjoy writing too much. :->

    I'm a new follower. I tend to stay away from the bleak books these days, but I'm always interested in talking about books that take on truth.


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