Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hanif Kureishi : The Last Word

Thomas Rowlandson

"He had completed his work, which was to inform people that Mamoon had counted for something as an artist, that he'd been a writer, a maker of worlds, a teller of important truths, and that this was a way of changing things , of living well, and of creating freedom"

I do admire the above words - the very last words in this novel.

They refer to Henry, the character who has been writing a biography of Mamoon, a controversial  English/Pakistani writer who resembles V.S. Naipul.  Henry's task - given to him by his editor - was to write something sensational about the old man's sexual behavior that the general public would like to read. As it turns out, Henry's current sexual escapades are even more prolific.  Women have always found him as irresistible as a box of chocolates - and he has no interest in settling down with any of them.

Unfortunately, we don't get to read anything by Mamoon, only Kureishi, and his story of Henry does not seem to reveal any important truths - other than that some writers work hard and enjoy sex.

Many of the chapters seem to have been dashed off in record speeds. As a critic in Guardian wrote:
"Kureishi's output is so erratic that the reader can sometimes only assume that he has been intermittently coshed on the head, dragged from his writing desk and replaced by an enthusiastic but untutored impostor"

I liked how every character is capable of surprising behavior - but it did get tiresome keeping track of it all. 

Henry ends up living with a girlfriend who has no back story.  She was casually introduced as a colleague of his editor - and then, whoops, suddenly she's in bed with the main character.

I suppose the point of it all is that South Asian Muslim intellectuals, like Mamoon and Kureishi, are both thrilled and baffled by the sexual freedom of English women.

On reflection, it might be noted that Mamoon, famous as he was, was never seen to engage with peers - only service staff, sexual partners, and people who wrote about him. A rather lonely way to end a long and allegedly productive life. 


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