Rawi Hage's new novel Carnival is the excellently written story of a taxi driver, Fly, as he negotiates relationships with his friends, neighbours and passengers. They are generally representatives of the under-belly of society and Fly is the philosophical leveler when situations get dicey. Set during carnival time in an unspecified city the characters are fairground people, transvestites, criminals, alcoholics, prostitutes, drug addicts and 'spiders', those drivers who sit in their taxis waiting for fares.
Born into a travelling circus, Fly is no ordinary character. Brought up by the bearded woman, he owns a flying carpet in an apartment which is filled floor to ceiling with books, categorised by his own unique system. Fly often gets drawn into sticky situations but always seems to deal with them in his own philosophical way He is an odd but admirable character and his trustworthy qualities are spotted by his passengers who strike up often more than just a driver/customer relationship with him.
The stories of the various characters we meet are all woven around Fly's taxi journeys and returns to either his flat or the café where all the drivers eat. This premise is surprisingly effective and Hage deals sympathetically with this lower level of society whilst retaining an edge to his writing. I first encountered Hage whilst reading the IMPAC prize shortlisted books, which he consequently won with his first novel De Niro's Game. An instant fan, this is an equally rewarding read but with more depth and development of character plus a wide variety of reader emotion. Rawi Hage can definitely be considered an author to follow with great interest.
Carnival by Rawi Hage is published by Penguin Books www.penguin.co.uk