Najib Mahfouz’s 1966 Adrift on the Nile explores the tension of an absurd world that demands seriousness. It revolves around a group of important figures in Egypt, who gather on the houseboat to smoke drugs, withdrawing from the business of life. Mahfouz, however, explicitly makes the novel about tension of the absurd, rather than an escape.
For the group, drugs represent oblivion of thought. They are removed from the real, i.e. current affairs, news, art, culture and people, but engaged in sarcastic questioning of the importance placed on thought, intellect, and art. In other words, they are unable to take anything seriously.
Into this group joins a serious-minded journalist determined to change them, in the hope to find purpose in her own life. Reality intervenes, and the group disintegrates.
[Saturday 16th May 2020, Cambridge]