Category Archives: Kureishi, Hanif

Midnight All Day: Hanif Kureishi

When it comes to writing about relationships, author Hanif Kureishi is unsparing.  Some of us might add the description cynical, but others might add pragmatic. Midnight All Day is a collection of short stories in which troubled relationships are at the fore. Some relationships are dying, some are just beginning, but regardless where the relationships place on the longevity scale, nothing is ever simple. Here’s a list of the stories:

Strangers When We Meet

Four Blue Chairs

That Was Then

Girl

Sucking Stones

A Meeting, At Last

Midnight All Day

The Umbrella

Morning in the Bowl of Night

The Penis

In Strangers When We Meet, Rob, an actor, is supposed to go on holiday with his older married mistress, Florence, but when her husband inconveniently (and at the last minute) decides to take the trip with her, all the plans are ruined. Rob finds himself in a small seaside town, booked into the same hotel as Florence and her husband. In fact Florence and Archie are in the room next door, and when the story opens, Rob has his ear to the wall trying to hear what is going on between Florence and her husband. It’s rather funny in a dark, twisted way, as Rob feels that the husband is the usurper, not him. Rob is, at first, really upset that his holiday is ruined, but seeing Florence with her husband somehow places her in a different light.

midnight all day

In Four Blue Chairs, a man and a woman who had an affair and subsequently left their partners decide to host their first dinner guest as a couple. Their decision to buy new chairs throws their relationship into question and also serves to show how the relationship will be conducted moving forward.

In That Was Then, Nick, a former pop journalist, now a married, respectable writer agrees to meet his former lover, Natasha. Nick is a bit worried about the meeting as Natasha is from his wild past:

We are unerring on our choice of lovers, particularly when we require the wrong person. There is an instinct, magnet or aerial which seeks the unsuitable. The wrong person is, of course, right for something–to punish, bully or humiliate us, let us down, leave us for dead, or, worst of all, give us the impressions that they are not inappropriate, but almost right, thus hanging us in love’s limbo.

If you are a writer and yearn to be published, then Sucking Stones may be a difficult story to read. This is the tale of middle-aged, divorced Marcia, a teacher, who fits writing in with everything else–raising a child as a single parent, working, cooking, etc. After getting a short story published, she started a writers’ group, and its members are “all, somehow, thwarted,” in their writing careers. Marcia thinks that the other writers in the group make “crass mistakes” yet are “astonished and sour” when this is brought to their attention. Marcia “didn’t believe she was such a fool.”

One day Marcia meets a popular author at a book signing. The author invites Marcia to her home, so things are looking up for Marcia. Is someone finally taking her seriously?  It’s a painful encounter, but it’s worse when the author pops into Marcia’s home:

Marcia and Alec were having fish fingers and baked beans. Aurelia must have been close; Marcia had hardly cleaned the table, and Alec hadn’t finished throwing his toys behind the sofa, when Aurelia’s car drew up outside. 

At the door she handed Marcia another signed copy of her new novel, came in, and sat down on the edge of the sofa.

What a beautiful boy,’ she said of Alec. ‘Fine hair–almost white.’

‘And how are you?’ asked Marcia

‘Tired. I’ve been doing readings and giving interviews, not only here but in Berlin and Barcelona. The French are making a film about me, and the Americans want me to make a film about my London.’

While Marcia struggles to find time to write, she wants her mother to pitch in caring for Alec. The contentious meetings between Marcia and her mother highlight their opposing needs:

‘What about me?’ said mother. ‘I haven’t even had a cup of tea today. Don’t I need time too?’

Marcia also has a strangely complicated yet no-strings relationship with Sandor, an underemployed Bulgarian who works as a porter. He’s content and happy with his circumstances, happy to read, drink and sleep with women. His contentment is in contrast to Marcia’s rather frazzled desires to write.

While I didn’t care for a couple of the stories: Girl and The Penis, I enjoyed the others immensely, and the collection is a good reminder of how much I like reading this author. In these stories we see how people are part of our lives but then we (or they) move on. Phases might be a better way of putting it–people are in certain phases of our lives but then things change.  Do we change? Do our tastes change? Do our needs change?  In Strangers When We Meet, for example, the story moves forward in time. Rob is now successful  and when he meets Florence again, she’s … a bit desperate. Ex spouses, ex lovers, yes they may hold a place in our past, but life is in a continual state of flux. Nothing is static.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Kureishi, Hanif

Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi

“Secrets are my currency: I deal in them for a living. The secrets of desire, of what people want, and of what they fear the most. The secrets of why love is difficult, sex complicated, living painful and death so close and yet placed far away. Why are pleasure and punishment closely related? How do our bodies speak? Why do we make ourselves ill? Why do you want to fail? Why is pleasure so hard to bear?”

And so begins Hanif Kureishi’s brilliant new novel, Something to Tell You. While I often don’t particularly like the characters Kureishi creates (I would find their lives too messy to deal with in ‘real life’), they are always the sort of people I want to read about–bright, interesting, entertaining and troubled. And in Something to Tell You, once again, Kureishi delivers a wonderful tale with his usual worldly wisdom. If you enjoyed The Buddha of Suburbia, then chances are you will enjoy the marvelous Something To Tell You, for in some ways these two novels complement each other.

The narrator of Something to Tell You is Jamal Kahn a London-based, middle-aged Anglo-Indian psychoanalyst. Jamal tells us: “Alas to the surprise of many, psychoanalysis doesn’t make people behave better, nor does it make them morally good.” Divorced and with a busy practice, Jamal spends his days listening to his patients’ many problems, and even Jamal’s relatives, friends and acquaintances feel free to bend Jamal’s ear at any time of the day or night. Jamal, who spends his life listening to others, tells his story to the reader, reaching back into his past while exploring the nature of desire, guilt, and loss. Kureishi’s characters are mainly middle-aged Londoners, coming to terms with aging and death, juggling those realities against the time left. While the renewal of desire and desirability is a huge issue for some of the characters, Jamal struggles with the ghosts of his past and long cherished dreams of what could have been.

Jamal’s life is full of colourful characters–Jamal’s mother has “discharged her duty and gone AWOL,” and Jamal’s exotic sister, Miriam and her lover theater and film director Henry embark on an odyssey of the London sex club scene, much to the dismay of Henry’s daughter. The fact that Henry is also Jamal’s best friend complicates matters even further, and Jamal is expected to ‘save’ Henry from Miriam’s corrupting clutches. But Jamal has problems of his own. His ex-wife Josephine and son, Rafi are steadily moving out of Jamal’s life into new lives of their own. When the novel begins, Jamal’s life is fairly sterile and uncomplicated, but as the story develops, he becomes increasingly mired in the relationships of his family and friends. Plus Jamal’s past–incidents he’d much rather leave buried–float to the surface and cannot be avoided.

I loved this novel. Kureishi’s amazing insight into human relationships seeps through on every page, and he’s an experienced enough author to veer away from the trap of making the therapist/narrator the person who has all the answers. Jamal may be a therapist, but he’s just as troubled as everyone else. The difference with Jamal, however, is that his problems are largely buried, so his life appears, at least on the surface, to be in control. The madness and mayhem of Miriam’s chaotic household with her cabbie partner-in crime, Bushy, a dealer in contraband, is in complete contrast to Jamal’s ordered existence. Jamal has a time and a place for passion, but unlike his sister, it’s compartmentalized, tucked safely away from the other aspects of his life. Jamal’s ex-lover, Karen notes that Jamal “hated to fall in love, it was liked being sucked down the plughole. You lost control, it was madness.”

Kureishi’s books and films (Rosie and Sammy Get Laid, My Beautiful Launderette) tend to be social commentaries of the shifting times. Buddha of Suburbia, for example, is a stunning account of the 70s and 80s in Britain. Something to Tell You is also an account of a shifting Britain–a Britain in which “we live in Thatcher’s psyche if not her anus, in the world she made, of competition, consumerism, celebrity and guilt’s bastard son, Charity: bingeing and debt.” In this world of shifting values, “who could not be amused by the fact that the capitalism unleashed by the Conservatives under Thatcher was destroying the very social values the party espoused.” With an unpopular war waging in Iraq, the tragedy of the London bombings of 2005, and a country run by a government running amok, Kureishi weaves in the troubled political times that contribute to his characters’ sense of betrayal, loss, and confusion as they struggle with disappointments, aging, and the “uses and difficulties of pleasure.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Kureishi, Hanif

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

“Where are you going as a person, Karim?”

When the novel, The Buddha of Suburbia begins, Karim, the child of an upper-class Indian father and a working class British mother, is in his teens. Karim watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate while his father becomes a minor celebrity who teaches yoga and offers platitudes to middle-class suburbanites. With British culture serving as a backdrop, author Hanif Kureishi weaves together issues such as the end of empire, racism, and the explosion of Punk Rock while charting Karim’s acting career.

To describe The Buddha of Suburbia as a coming-of-age novel is correct, but such a description doesn’t do justice to this witty, wise, sharp tale. Karim matures in the turmoil of the 70s, and his confusion deepens following his parents’ divorce. Morally adrift, Karim records the progress of several of his relatives–Jamila, his radical cousin, her arranged marriage to the hapless Changez, Jamila’s parents–Auntie Jetta and Uncle Anwar who operate a rundown grocery shop surrounded by hostile natives, and Eva–Karim’s father’s extraordinary girlfriend. While Karim is an observer of events in these people’s lives, he also struggles to discover his own identity. He’s never even been to India, but he’s selected to play token Indian roles–such as Mowgli from Jungle Book, and he discovers that many chose to define him by the colour of his skin, rather than who he really is.

I loved the unforgettable, entertaining characters in this book, and Jamila and Changez deserve a book of their own. Jamila is introduced to various radical political ideas by a progressive teacher, and consequently activism defines her soul: “Under the influence of Angela Davis, Jamila had started exercising every day, learning karate and judo … she was preparing for the guerilla war.” Jamila’s father begins an ill-advised hunger strike to coerce his daughter to submit to an arranged marriage. The bridegroom is the bumbling, fat, Conan Doyle addicted Changez. Could a more unlikely match exist? Changez probably couldn’t manage any westernized wife–let alone the fierce Jamila. Changez’s feeble attempts to exact obedience from Jamila fail miserably, and Karim begins to educate Changez to Western ways by giving him Harold Robbins’ novels. Soon Changez sees “Britain as we see Sweden: as the gold mine of sexual opportunity.”

Some readers may be offended by the novel’s descriptions of frank sexuality, but this is a story of Karim’s exposure and experimentation with life, so nothing seems overly gratuitous. Kureishi has also written many screenplays–including My Beautiful Launderette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Intimacy and The Mother. If you’re familiar with those films, then you know that Kureishi doesn’t shy away from sexual themes. There’s also a British television film of The Buddha of Suburbia, and it’s highly faithful to the novel. The film, however, does not possess the novel’s power, and Karim is portrayed as an observer with less emphasis on his reactions to events. It’s still well worth watching and is excellently cast, so if you enjoy the book, I’d recommend tracking down a copy of the film too.

6 Comments

Filed under Kureishi, Hanif