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Published October 19th 2019
What Happens When You Plot to Steal A Picasso
Cairo by Chris Womersley is a fictional memoir of its 17-year-old lead character Tom Button, during a 9 month period in 1986. Tom moves to Melbourne from regional Victorian town, to study an Arts degree at University.
Photo courtesy Booktopia
Finding accommodation is made easy when he moves into the Cairo apartment building after his eccentric Aunt Helen passes away. He describes this as a time "when he lived with nothing but learned everything."
Tom soon encounters some of the other residents who live in the Cairo building and before long he is enticed into the exciting, bohemian arty world of married couple, Sally and Max Cheever and their friends, Edward and Gertrude. They share with Tom their bold, sinister and dangerous scheme to steal Picasso's "Weeping Woman" painting from the National Gallery of Victoria.
The Tate Gallery in London reports that on 26 April 1937, the air force of Nazi Germany bombed the Basque town of Guernica. The attack was carried out in support of General Franco's Nationalist forces. It was one of the worst atrocities of the Spanish Civil War. Picasso responded to the massacre by painting the large anti-war mural Guernica. He also made a number of additional paintings of a figure from the mural, a woman holding her dead child. Weeping Woman is the last of this series.
The "Weeping Woman" is one of Picasso's most famous works based on an image of a woman crying and the universal image of suffering.
Their plan is remarkably simple but will it work? They figure they will sell the painting and if they are successful, move to France for a picture (pardon the pun) perfect life in the South. Tom can add value to their plan since he owns a car (well inherited his Aunt's Mercedes) which will be a great escape vehicle.
Against his better judgement and though lovelorn eyes, Tom agrees. In a strange twist, he realises that deceit runs deep and he is not immune from being its victim.
Cairo is set against the backdrop of the Melbourne music, drug and the counter-culture scene of flowery hippies, attitude aplenty punks and angry skinheads. The musical soundtrack for the novel is Morrisey and Nick Cave. You get the idea
About The Cairo Flats
While this is a piece of crime fiction, many of the architectural references, including the titled Cairo building are in fact real. The heritage-listed Cairo Flats, built in 1936 and designed by Acheson Best Overend, are an icon of early Melbourne modernism. The twenty-eight studio apartments were intended to provide "maximum amenity in minimum space for minimum rent."
Photo courtesy Open House Melbourne
Who is the Author? Chris Womersley was born in 1968 in Melbourne, Victoria. He is an Australian author of crime fiction, short stories and poetry. He trained as a radio journalist and has travelled extensively to such places as India, South-East Asia, South America, North America, and West Africa. He currently lives in Melbourne.
Final Thoughts I was drawn to this book because of my curiosity for the building which provides a sense of place. It encouraged me to research it and find pictures of Cairo and its surrounding landmarks to help me appreciate those mentioned in the story.
The story has elements of naivety, greed and offers an interesting look at Melbourne's counterculture of the '80s from the safety of the 300 plus pages. Did the get the painting? Well, you will need to read Cairo to find out. Cairo is produced by Scribe.