Read Cairo by Chris Womersley Online


Frustrated by country life and eager for adventure and excitement, eighteen-year-old Tom Button moves to the city to study. Once there, and living in a run-down apartment block called Cairo, he is befriended by an eccentric musician Max Cheever, his beautiful wife Sally, and their close-knit circle of painters and poets. Tom is delighted at his new life, but his charismatiFrustrated by country life and eager for adventure and excitement, eighteen-year-old Tom Button moves to the city to study. Once there, and living in a run-down apartment block called Cairo, he is befriended by an eccentric musician Max Cheever, his beautiful wife Sally, and their close-knit circle of painters and poets. Tom is delighted at his new life, but his charismatic older friends aren’t quite what they appear to be. As he falls increasingly under their sway, Tom enters a bohemian world of parties and gallery openings, but also of more sinister events involving murder, deception and betrayal, not to mention one of the greatest unsolved art heists of the twentieth century: the infamous theft of Picasso’s *Weeping Woman*. Set among the demimonde — where nothing and nobody is as they seem — *Cairo* is a novel about growing up, the perils of first love, and finding one’s true place in the world....

Title : Cairo
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781922070517
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Cairo Reviews

  • Andrea
    2019-01-19 08:47

    On one side of the large, busy road were the Carlton Gardens with their tennis courts and stately avenues of elm trees. On the other side, almost hidden behind a hedge and an overgrown peppercorn tree, was the apartment block with its name spelled out in white metal lettering affixed to one of its red-brick walls: Cairo.This is our introduction to the Fitzroy apartment block where 17yo country boy, Tom Button, comes to live in the summer of 1986. There he meets a large cast of eclectic characters and is (fictionally) drawn into participating in a real-life, still-unsolved art theft; that of Picasso's Weeping Woman from the NGV. While there are quite a few characters in this story, I thought that Tom was the only one that I really got to know well. For him, it's the time of his life - his coming of age and experiencing first that instant I understood love as a symptom for which the only cure was love itself, a riddle from which there was no escapeBut naturally, this being his first love, you know it's not going to be a happy ever after.How appalling is love: it is almost impossible to judge if someone feels it for you, and yet you know instantly when those feelings are retracted. Almost as if love, like air, is best detected by the lack of it.The writing is beautiful and the plot moves along at a nice pace, but the thing that really made this novel special for me was the incredible evocation of 1980s Australia, Melbourne, and in particular, the Fitzroy/Carlton area.

  • Steve
    2018-12-28 05:37

    I was looking forward to reading Chris Wormersley's novel Cairo, as someone who has grown up in Melbourne, remembers the theft of Picasso's Weeping Woman from the National Gallery, and travels past the alluring Cairo apartments every day on the tram. But right from the outset, something just didn't work for me, and it became increasingly annoying, at least until the halfway point, where the plot picks up pace. The thing that rankled was the voice. Why did this description of Melbourne in the 1980s, when post-punk was in full swing in the inner suburbs, instead make me think it was the 1920s Long Island of Gatsby, or England of Brideshead Revisited? Because of the overworked 'literary' prose. Two examples from the early chapters:'He walked with his torso tilted forwards at the waist, as if so accustomed to accommodating the lesser height of most people that it had become an established part of his demeanor.'' "That wasn't you listening to Pink Floyd the other day, was it?" The manner in which he asked me this intimated that the admission of such a crime would be tantamount to confessing involvement in the Holocaust.'Gosh, what a lot of syllables for a fairly simple notion.The question was 'Who's voice is this?' Certainly not the voice of 17 year old Tom, the protagonist who had just left high school. Obviously his older self (since the book is in the first person), at some later time of life, but the actual storyteller is never revealed, and for me that voice was just incongruous. Interestingly, once the art heist takes centre stage, about halfway through, the ponderous language is scaled back and the dynamics of the plot make the ride home an enjoyable one.

  • Jillwilson
    2019-01-18 07:51

    I love a book about yearning. I love a book about the humiliations or missed opportunities of one’s youth. What does this say about me? When I was 17, a similar age to the protagonist of this book, I felt like the world was alive with possibilities. I remember my post-school summer more vividly than most others. “The world is your oyster” took the form of days on the beach, a dalliance with a guy who surfed, music, skivving off in a Kombi to wild shorelines or parties, my HSC results, a place at uni in the course I wanted. Like Tom Button (the lead character) I was from the country and in Melbourne for the first time outside the constrained walls of the boarding house of the school I attended. Like Tom, I spent a lot of time in Carlton and Fitzroy. I had a Valhalla cinema calendar on the wall but went more often to the bughouse in Carlton, I drank coffee when I could afford to at Café Paradiso in Lygon Street and then wandered into Readings two-storey shop just a few doors along. I felt like I was in the kind of world that I was supposed to be in, as opposed to the small country town where I grew up, with its focus on who made the netball team and who was a moll.Cairo is set in 1986, the year that 18 year-old Tom arrives in Melbourne escaping the provincialism of rural Victoria. His place of residence is Cairo, a block of flats in Fitzroy, a building with quite a personality (see the real Cairo here: Tom hooks up with an older bunch of people who play in the arts world. They are exotic, confident, worldly; he is in thrall to them. I remember this feeling well. One or two years after I moved to Melbourne, I too lived in a block of flats and became friendly with an older couple downstairs. They were only in their late 20s but they had a child, a car and a telephone. And proper jobs. They seemed SO grown-up. I’m not sure that art forgery, drug use and other illicit activities played much of a role in their lives but those themes play out in Cairo, as Tom is drawn into a world that distorts his moral boundaries.I won’t say any more about the plot. You can see that I was willing this book to be good. I loved Wormersley’s last book ‘Bereft’ and here’s a book set in my hometown (in fact it made me think about books that really feature Melbourne: ‘Monkey Grip’, ‘Truth’ and anything else by Peter Temple, ‘My Brother Jack’, ‘Three Dollar’s,’ The Slap’ and ‘Barracuda’, ‘The Spare Room’, Anything by Shane Moloney, ‘Unpolished Gem’). But this book really didn’t work for me. I didn’t really buy the reactions of the main character. And the premise (an older man reflects back on a seminal period of his life – pure Julian Barnes or Ian McEwen in concept) promised way more than it delivered. In the prologue we meet Tom as an older man, writing about his yearning for Sally, one half of the couple he meets in the apartment block where he lives. He is buying shirts and writes of how he imagines, even in middle age, what she would think of the shirts he was choosing. “I loved her from the time I first saw her, and for the rest of my life, but I loved her most intensely on that afternoon.” I loved this set-up; it’s one that always works for me in novels (am thinking here of ‘The GoBetween’ or ‘On Chesil Beach’ or’ The Sense of an Ending’. Maybe the English are the masters of yearning? It’s certainly not an American thing.)However, I think the author lost sight in the narrative of this older narrator; we experience events directly through the eyes of the young Tom. Maybe this is on purpose, but you also lose that older perspective on a pretty crazy set of events and the reactions of the younger Tom don’t always gel.But enough, I don’t want to be mean. He will go on to write better books.

  • Alex
    2019-01-15 03:47

    This is my first experience reading Chris Womersley and I'm very impressed. Cairo is a wonderful evocation of Melbourne in the 1980s. Womersley constructs beautiful sentences to tell this well structured story of some of the inhabitants in the Cairo apartment building in Fitzroy during the time of the theft of Picasso's 'Weeping Woman' from the NGV.I thought the protagonist, Tom, was a wonderfully drawn angst ridden eighteen year old, escaping a dull country town and finding love amongst a group of bohemian n'er-do-wells living in inner-city Melbourne who plan the theft and forging of the Picasso.The story moves along quite well with interesting minor characters, It also has a lot of humour. An example: "He breathed through his mouth and spoke in abrupt barks, as if language were a bad taste of which he was eager to rid himself."The bitterness toward the end very neatly ties up this story of a gang of artists, con men and junkies that combines effortlessly with a beautiful and heartbreaking rites of passage for young Tom. In particular, the ultimate betrayal of trust between these characters.I look forward to reading more of this guy.

  • Amanda B
    2019-01-20 01:53

    I've just finished reading this, and am already looking for something to fill the void left by Cairo - I loved it! Having been born in the same year as the author, and starting at Melbourne Uni at the same time as Tom Button was due to commence, there was much about this novel that made me yearn for days long since passed. Like some other reviewers I too felt that the novel didn't immediately establish Melbourne in the 1980s - at times I felt like Tom was hanging out with the Bloomsbury Set - but soon enough I was taken back to aspects of my student days and the ambiance of Fitzroy and Carlton at that time. The overall oeuvre of this novel is one of nostalgia, but that worked for me and I relished the descriptions of long since departed cafes and drinking spots that I frequented as a student and later resident of Fitzroy. I'm sure I was at some of the parties that Tom attended, and witnessed Max and Sally walking through the Carlton Gardens at dusk! The plot of the Weeping Woman theft was deftly woven and provided an intoxicating "what if that really happened ..?" sub text. Very different from Bereft, but highly recommended!

  • Annerlee
    2019-01-22 08:37

    The novel is a coming of age story set in 1980s Melbourne (Australia). When Tom Button leaves his small town home to live in a city apartment block (named Cairo), it's to fulfill his dream of broadening his mind, traveling the world and becoming a famous novelist. Tom falls in with a group of young bohemian artists who seem to offer him exactly this. The story is set against the background of a real and unsolved crime - the theft and return of Picasso's Weeping Woman from the Victoria Gallery in the city. The Weeping Woman thread to the story isn't the mainstay of the novel... this isn't a crime novel, thriller or mystery ... it is a narration of events by a naive country boy who is finding his feet, alone and on the fringes of an unfamiliar and cosmopolitan city. The first two thirds of the book are pleasant but mainly chatty / uneventful and set the scene for the final denouement.Major themes:What is the value of art? Does it matter whether a painting is real or fake, if the viewer's perception is the same? Is art worth more than it's price tag or is it a commodity to be bought and sold? Should the creative act be payment enough for the artist? Work by a skilled (but unrecognised / unfashionable) artist is worth less than than slap dash art by a famous or well-marketed painter... why is this? is this ok?The theme is echoed by Tom's experience with his new friends. How much is real, how much is fake? In how far do you become the persona you create for yourself? Tom is naive from the first, but even he catches glimpses of what lies behind his friends' veneer. having said this, his perceptions of his own, grey family-life turn out to be somewhat skewed. The book considers all this in its slow, leisurely, comfortable manner. It was sometimes thought-provoking, even intriguing on occasion, but never enthralling or exciting. Oh - and Tom was so slow on the uptake sometimes, I felt like shaking him. As he was the narrator, this could be extremely frustrating!My favourite character was a precocious and annoying little girl called Eve who was a breath of honest fresh air, put Tom in his place on occasion and made me chuckle.I'm glad I listened to this on audio book - the Australian narrator gave an authentic feel to the dialogue and boredom was kept at bay because I could do other things whilst listening. Had I been reading, I fear I wouldn't have stayed the course.3 stars for setting, eloquence, complexity and character building. Also because it made a lasting impression on me and had me mulling it over for a few hours afterwards.

  • MaryG2E
    2019-01-11 09:39

    I liked this book though it did not bowl me over. I remember the great public fuss made when Picasso's Weeping Woman was stolen from the National Gallery of Victoria. This historical event creates the narrative drive of the story. Overwhelmingly the main theme is the coming of age of a naive, gauche country boy, Tom, who does not belong in his home town of Dunley, in country Victoria, because of his intellectual and artistic interests. Unusual circumstances find him at the age of 17 living alone in a one bedroom flat in trendy Fitzroy, where he meets a group of older bohemian types. Fascinated by their eccentricities and lack of respect for social mores, Tom finds his new 'family' amid this quirky circle of artists, musicians and poets, living a dissipated life of all-night parties, alcohol, drugs and sex. Blinded by his devotion, and desperate to 'belong', Tom agrees to participate in the theft of the Picasso painting. As the situation spirals out of control, and his idol, Max, becomes more and more erratic and dangerous, Tom learns some bitter-sweet lessons about growing up, trust, love and self-worth.

  • Trevor
    2018-12-27 03:46

    Interesting book, based around a true incident that occurred at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.The writing style took a while to get used to, but once I was used to it, the story was an easy read. Character development was a bit stunted, though sufficient for the story - it would have been interesting to know the back story of more of the protagonists. The reason I have given four stars is for the evocation of Melbourne in the 1980's, the weaving in of the real life events and the fact that you are never quite sure at the end what the outcome is - something which is always good, being left with your own thoughts on what happened.

  • Georgie
    2019-01-10 08:41

    While I enjoyed this novel, mostly, the setting of the 1980s just didn't ring true for me, I'm not sure why. It just didn't quite seem right, it seemed more 1960s. I found it really shit that in order to demonstrate how annoying and spoilt Eve was we learn that she was extended breastfed. C'mon that's a pathetic connection!! I just about threw the book across the room at that one. Extended breastfeeding is a good thing, not disgusting. gah.

  • Melinda
    2019-01-04 04:39

    This book was most intriguing and compelling to read. With most Australian novels I love the familiarity I feel when reading them. Add the memorable theft of a Picasso from Melbourne National Gallery and a few interesting characters and I was hooked to the end.

  • Sharon Lee
    2019-01-20 03:35

    I was bored with this book. One dimensional cliched bohemian characters and no surprises.

  • Julie Marr
    2018-12-23 09:35

    I thought I would enjoy this more. A pretty good yarn. Lots of Melbourne references and an intriguing take on a well known story from my childhood. It just didn't capture me like the excellent 'Bereft' did. Probably a 3.5 star book.

  • Lisa
    2018-12-25 03:56

    Cairo is a most interesting departure for Melbourne author Chris Womersley. In Bereft (see my review) he fashioned a bewitching novel in Australian Gothic; in Cairo he has fictionalised one of Melbourne’s most notorious art heists. I predict that the book will show up in any number of shortlists…The central character, Tom Button – 17 years old in 1986 – is looking back as an older but wiser man, on his Year of Living Dangerously. As an adolescent, he was a misfit in Dunley, a country town which Womersley has wisely fabricated lest he rouse indignation for its characterisation as a dreary rural dump where ‘a man’s worth is measured by his ability to stake a fence or identify the number of cylinders in a car by sound alone‘ (p. 12).The author’s character excoriates country life; he rejects his family and the future that seems mapped out for him. He fears becoming a pothead like the older brother of his mate David, and feels betrayed when David abandons the fantasy of escaping the place and takes up an apprenticeship instead.The thought of becoming a local baker like ‘Crusty Brown or a real estate agent like my father and his second wife distressed me almost more than I could bear. (p.106)He cannot wait to leave Dunley and a timely inheritance from an aunt to his father provides him with free lodging in inner-city Melbourne, so that he can study Arts at university. (Well, that’s the plan. And there’s a plan to write a novel too). Only too ready to be delighted by everything Melbourne has to offer a young man with pseudo-intellectual pretensions, he moves into ’Cairo’ – a block of flats which shelters a miscellany of characters including some splendid Bohemians. These flats actually exist: they’re on Nicholson St Fitzroy and were designed by Australian modernist architect Best Overend. But this is no ordinary bildungsroman…To read the rest of my review please visit

  • Wonderkell
    2018-12-29 01:38

    While I enjoyed Cairo, there was always something that irritated me & therefore affected my interest from the beginning. That something was the narrator Tom's voice. Tom Button is a 17 year old growing up in the 1980s. In Cairo he has just left the stifling atmosphere of country town Victoria to live in Melbourne, to attend university & live alone in his Aunt's old apartment in the Cairo complex after she has passed away. It's the 1980s, post punk, arts scene. But I just don't buy Tom Button as 17, and the atmosphere is more Great Gatsby than 80s Melbourne. What does work really well in the book is the theme of "forgery". Not only is the book about the famous theft of Picasso's Weeping Woman, and a fictional forgery of that painting, but the book asks the question: are the public personas we display all just a "forgery", or a performance of what we want the world to see in order to be perceived as more interesting or to manipulate situations. A secondary theme is the oppression of women throughout history & still, in this case through taking away their careers & also asking why we never believe a woman can produce something of equal genius as a man. In particular, artist Gertrude asks Tom why he thinks he never learned about the heroic female artist at school - it is always Picasso, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, and never Frieda Khalo or Georgia O'Keefe. It is a question beautifully answered by Gertrude's success at the end of the book. Despite enjoying the storyline & characters, I had to constantly remind myself that this was the 1980s, not the 1920s. The narrative voice just really clashed through the entire book. I never once believed this character. Which is a pity, because there are the makings of a great book here.

  • Linda
    2019-01-19 05:00

    A beautifully written novel. Chris Womersley has a way of drawing the reader into his story with an ease that is lacking in other novels. He engages the senses when describing a scene. 'I dream of Cairo still. The dreams are so vivid that, on occasion, I wake sweating, disoriented, expecting to see honeyed light glancing off the floorboards and curlicues of dust pirouetting lazily through the morning air; to smell sweet, stale smoke and the tang of vetiver cologne; to hear the grumble of trams, and the pock of tennis balls being struck in the shady courts across the road. There is the acrid taste of last night's whisky in my mouth. The melancholy breeze of a simple piano tune trickles through an open window.'Honestly, he makes other writers seem lazy by comparison. It is set in Melbourne which almost becomes a character in the novel itself. It's beauty and ugliness. Themes of culture, art, music are threaded through the story. Friendship, love, wanting to belong, corrupting influence, brokenness, misguidance, flawed people. And wrapped loosely around all this is talk of a heist and murder.

  • Estela Anders
    2019-01-05 09:56

    Another book club selection. I have to admit I was quite excited to be reading a book set in Melbourne, as it has been my home for almost 20 years now. The first half of the book was quite tedious, nothing really happens and the main character is not believable -a 17 year old country boy in a big city he was not, but he was meant to be. While I was not in Australia in the 80's I'd bet anything it was not as it was described in the book, which had much more of a 1920's feel, so that kept distracting me ( plus the nothing happening for chapters on end). Then some action -which I will have to research more about as I love art and the theft of a Picasso from NGV sounds fascinating- but even the resolution was quite predictable and unsatisfying.

  • Blair
    2019-01-13 08:51

    I got a nice little buzz from reading about such familiar locations in Womersley's novel set in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy in 1986. The apartment building Cairo that provides the setting is located right around the corner from where I lived when I first moved to Melbourne. Fitzroy had changed a bit by 1998 when I lived there, but the setting still resonated strongly. Womersley's young narrator gets mixed up with a bohemian crew and he draws on the real events surrounding the theft of Picasso's 'Weeping Woman' from the NGV, coming up with an imagined scenario for it. Well written.

  • Jane
    2019-01-03 04:49

    This is a great story, one that deserves telling, and Chris has done a good job getting it out there. The pacing is good, and i read the whole thing in a weekend. But I was often stopped cold by the writing style, which seemed overly pompous and cliched. Was it on purpose? And I was disappointed how little it seemed to take place in the 80s: it's as though all Australian coming-of-age stories have to have a late 1950s/early 60s feel, even if they're happening in the 1980s. I thought this was a pretty good review:

  • Nicole Sabbadin
    2018-12-23 04:41

    Can I give an extra half star? There's a lot of merit in this novel, where the author has evoked a Melbourne that's more like Paris in the 1930s than ocker Oz. I did find the continous portent by the narrator a little tiresome, and there's a lot of recount, but it's a novel of merit from an excellent writer. He used the bare facts of the case in an imaginative way. would have liked to see more done with his perception of max, but still quite good.

  • Michael Livingston
    2019-01-06 05:00

    Entertaining, with the special bonus that comes from reading something set in neighbourhoods you know well. The characters are fairly generic - the country kid outcast who falls in with an older, bohemian (and essentially untrustworthy) gang, The older, beautiful (and unavailable) woman, the heroin using artists etc etc. It's a thrilling story (based on real events), nicely told, but it's not hugely memorable.

  • Claire Preston
    2018-12-24 05:41

    A good read set around Melbourne with lots of local references. A young boy from the country comes of age and learns that you can't always have what you want. Some nice twists along the way to keep the reader interested.

  • Keira Lykourentzos
    2019-01-07 01:42

    Bit overwritten, bit too much name dropping, bit too much referring to the women he doesn't like as fat or matronly. Other than that, OK.

  • Caroline Lewin
    2019-01-12 01:33

    Wonderful character development, nostalgic reading

  • Chai1965
    2019-01-11 03:42

    3.5 I enjoyed the references to Melbourne in the mid 1980s - brought back many memories. But I found many aspects of the plot really silly and unbelievable. A quick and easy read.

  • Kathy
    2019-01-20 07:41

    Good one.

  • Clare Rhoden
    2019-01-22 07:59

    I found this book very enjoyable, with neat throwbacks to the 1980s Melbourne which I knew and loved. The narrator is convincing, and his coming of age story among a bohemian set of art thieves is a pleasure to read. A couple of times, I was slightly confused about the genre (worrying whether the dog being shot, the art fraud, the absent family, the heroin, the murder!!! meant we were heading into gravely serious territory), but overall, the story is a bit Agatha Christie or Midsomer Murders in that no character that you care about gets killed (though I wasn't happy with the dog being injured in such a story!).I got over these bumps as lightly as I could, and then enjoyed the book more and more as it segued in to a close, where many of my misconceptions were tidied up. I think most readers will thoroughly enjoy this book.

  • Jessica
    2019-01-12 09:49

    My actual rating is a 2.5.although this isn't the type of book I normally read, there were moments where the characters were enjoyable. The writing was catching and the way Chris described certain moments was very imaginative causing me to think differently to how I normally would.This said it took me a bit to get into and even then I never felt the tenseness I should of felt when reading certain scenes. The characters were very enjoyable and I could even relate them to people I know. All in all I would recommend this book to certain people, but more older readers.

  • Steph
    2019-01-07 06:37

    I loved this book, but admittedly it's partly because it triggered such strong nostalgia for my own time being an 18 year old at Melbourne Uni (around where the book is set) and spending time in that area, trying to be "adult" and "cool" and "arty" as the protagonist in this story does. It's a "coming of age" story, but interesting and a bit different with a twist at the end. In some parts the characters are painfully infuriating but in a familiar way that makes the story seem real.

  • Stephanie Holt
    2018-12-25 05:38

    re-read for book group

  • Lauren
    2019-01-19 09:41

    Loved the setting and found the characters interesting...