Monday, 9 February 2009

Hanif Kureishi - Something to Tell You (Faber 2009)

Hanif Kureishi’s latest novel takes on a weighty subject on which he is a profound expert: himself. Crushingly unambitious from a personal hero of mine, someone whose grace, humour and pomposity made him such an electric writer in his time has now taken the time to fart out a book that lazily conveys his opinion on everything in London through the thin veil of a wafer-thin plot. Hanif Kureshi plays Jamal Khan, a psychiatrist with some problems. He’s left his wife. He’s in his fifties. He’s super-cool, suave, pretentious, sexy, a stoner, brimming with important friends and gutter-street origins. He flirts, gets high, says ‘wha’garn’ to his son and listens to 50 Cent and M.Ward. Hanif Kureishi is a man trying to hold on to his cool status in his old age by playing a man trying to hold on to his cool status. It is a breezy read and fun and funny but there are elements- like where he only ever singles out peripheral black characters but never white or brown; his referencing of mainstream and underground culture; the vicarious unrealistic old-man sex; the attitude to other Asians (they’ve all written novels) that make you wonder why he bothered phoning in this work. At 500 pages, a thinly disguised mediation on the power of guilt and the folklore of old travesties washed away by living them into your past stretches barely across its bow. Kureishi... sorry Khan, jumps from anecdote to anecdote where ostensibly the result is that he comes off as cool, suave and calm.

The plot is thus: Jamal once loved Ajita. He found out a detail about her he couldn’t handle causing him to commit an act of violence. She disappeared. He went mad. He then saw a shrink, fell in love with him, became a shrink, had a few more affairs and a son who is his best buddy. Along the way his best friend and riotous sister are engaging in extreme sex, he gets involved. Then Ajita returns into his life and it is flipped about 30degrees off-kilter. Everything happens as should and is dealt with easily. Jamal is the only character worth caring about because so little time in invested in the others. Everything is peripheral to his descriptions of his consummate attention to the latest trends and things and his thoughts on London. Quite bizarrely and unnecessary he crowbars the timescale into the 7/7 bombings and it becomes a subplot about fear and London’s cathartic unity, yet bears no relation on anything else. I don’t hate this book and I do covet Kureishi’s sardonic tone and wayward way with words, but this book is lazy and plump, phoned in and containing as much depth as a Girls Aloud opera. Lazy in its rehashing of similar Kureishi staple characters, bohemiam intellectuals, disparate deadbeats, immigrant marauders and sexual deviants, down to the resurgence of characters from My Beautiful Laundrette and The Buddha of Suburbia, completely unnecessary and lazy for a man of Kureishi’s wit and invention. This is pretty light disappointing stuff from someone who could do a lot better. It’s just a shame it was so entertaining and easy to read at the same time, quite the pickle.

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