D J-Taylor

The return of Kureishi-man

D.J. Taylor reviews Hanif Kureishi's latest novel

Anthony Powell always maintained that readers who disliked his early books did so on essentially non-literary grounds. Conservative reviewers of the 1930s, irked by the party-going degenerates of a novel like Afternoon Men (1931) did not believe that such people existed. If, on the other hand, they did exist then novels ought not to be written about them. The same danger has always lain in wait for Hanif Kureishi, whose fiction — whatever one might think of his prose style — has always been weighed down by the almost supernatural dreariness of the characters who wander about in it.

We first met Kureishi-man as long ago as The Buddha of Suburbia (1990). Older, by no means wiser and yet more inwardly distressed, he turned up again in Intimacy (1998), a novella whose subject was supposedly Kureishi’s own failed marriage, and the short stories collected in The Body (2002). Here in Something to Tell You, some even more extreme versions of him slouch over the clotted West London pavements: the wrong side of 50, but still clinging, barnacle-like, to the hull of SS Metropolitan Media, still obsessed with the sexual act and that lost Seventies past of drugs, women and radical politicking that no Kureishi-man has ever managed to subdue. If the current outing has a symbolic highpoint it comes when several members of the cast get to meet Mick Jagger in the aftermath of a Rolling Stones concert.

Jamal, Kureishi’s narrator, is a fashion- able psychoanalyst whose clientele includes a premiership footballer and, at any rate prospectively, Kate Moss. Festooned with grand literary friends, such as theatrical director Henry, his gaze also extends to crazy bohemia, here represented by his sister Miriam, by whom Henry is unexpectedly besotted and who accompanies her paramour to sex clubs convened beneath the Vauxhall viaducts.

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