Have you ever met a sane accountant? I ask, because one of the more striking sentences in A Theft runs: ‘Long before this, though, and long before I learned that the insane, these days, might disguise themselves as money experts, I had heard that no one had met a sane accountant.’ To which an accountant might reply: ‘I have never met a sane writer. ‘(I am certainly in no position to wag the finger when it comes to this.)
Hanif Kureishi, though, has cause for his observation, and his grievance. In the spring of 2012, his accountant, whom he calls here Jeff Chandler, managed to con him out of around £180,000. This booklet is his reaction to that.
It starts out very promisingly. As Kureishi says: ‘Most proper writers would rather be at what I call the “Genet” end of the scale, with the criminals, thieves, and “bedlam boys”, than situate themselves within the farce and falsity of respectability.’ Unbidden, an image of Alan Bennett, who I think we can all agree is a ‘proper’ writer, floats up in the mind’s eye, somewhat undermining Kureishi’s claim, but let us take it with a generous spirit, and assent that, for most writers, accountancy is a mystery, and the idea of taking more than 100 phone calls a day, as Chandler claimed he did, is for them an unfathomable hell.
Still, if I had 180 grand to spare, I don’t think I’d be handing it over to anyone who promised me a quick buck at a suspiciously high rate of interest in return. (Actually, Kureishi only handed over about £100,000. The other £80,000 was from his building society account, which Chandler emptied with, Kureishi suspects, a copy of his driver’s licence. And I feel for him when he tries to persuade the branch manager that it is he, and not a short, chubby white man with a penchant for collecting James Bond memorabilia — although that may not have come up when he cleaned out the account — who is the real Hanif Kureishi.)
Kureishi has learned, or been reminded of, some bitter lessons from this. One is that his relationship with Chandler was a kind of love: he would wait desperately for his calls, even if all Chandler had to say was an evasion or a postponement (I now think of Father Ted’s line: ‘The money was just resting in my account’); if he didn’t call, Kureishi would call him several times an hour. He was reluctant to go to the police. He thought of Freud, who said that love involved the undervaluation of reality and the over-
valuation of the love object. He might have been better off, perhaps, if he had thought of what Freud had to say about money, which is that it was, basically, and politely put, human ordure, and that our attitudes to it, both costive and profligate, have their deep roots in our infancy.
In the end Kureishi went to the police. He learned that Chandler had his own pathetic problems. He also listened to women. ‘The women came through, and taught me to depend on them.’ As Kureishi has, rightly or wrongly, received some flak in the past for perceived misogyny, this is good news. He also knew that he could write about the experience. ‘My talent, such as it is, had not deserted me.’ As for getting Faber to ask a fiver for a pamphlet a mere ten or so times longer than this review, by my rough count, it would appear that he has acquired a whole new and impressive set of business skills, and I wish him well.
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