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
A Meeting, At Last
Midnight All Day
Morning in the Bowl of Night
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.
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.