Aye Write! - Hanif Kureishi
This article is from 2008.
Hanif Kureishi talks to Rodge Glass about why he has finally written the book he has always wanted to write
Hanif Kureishi is one of the most prolific, radical and ambitious writers around. He’s also one of the most multi-talented, having started out as a playwright in the 1970s and since written novels, journalism and directed films. He’s been busier than ever in the last few years: recent projects include an investigative, unflinching memoir about his father (My Ear at His Heart) a collection of essays covering everything from the fatwa against Salman Rushdie to the 7/7 attacks (The Word and the Bomb), and most recently the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film Venus, which starred Peter O’Toole as a dirty old man who falls for his best friend’s granddaughter.
While working on all of these projects, Kureishi was also writing something he describes as ‘what I really wanted to do.’ That became his new novel, Something to Tell You. He says: ‘I was working on it for ages, maybe since 1998. I was going to make it a short novel but it wasn’t satisfying like that, I wanted to put more material in.’ Weren’t the many other projects a distraction? ‘No,’ he says, very emphatically. ‘I always work in this chaotic way. If I get bored or stuck I just move on to the next thing. The ideas all feed into each other anyway, and in the end I worked out what I wanted to do with this book. So I went back to it.’
The end result was worth the wait. Fans of past work such as The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album will notice familiar themes here. Kureishi is a master of describing the chaos of contemporary life, particularly multi-cultural, complicated, modern London, but this story concentrates primarily on another regular Kureishi theme – the darker side of love and sex.
‘The fantasy of the West is that love and sex would exist in the same place,’ he says. ‘I think that’s rather a daft ideal. It’s as rare as lightning striking twice in the same spot.’ The characters struggle with this idea throughout, with the main character, Jamal, searching for both love and sex (or a combination of the two) everywhere, from his ex-wife, to a highly educated prostitute, to the anonymous sex club he visits with his sister.
At times Jamal is running from life rather than living it, but he does have a good reason to run. Despite being a successful psychoanalyst, he cannot escape the fact that many years ago he was partly responsible for the death of his girlfriend’s father, an act which he admits to in the opening pages. Jamal is not very sympathetic, like much of the cast here, but this doesn’t bother the author: ‘It’s never my intention to portray my characters sympathetically,’ he says, ‘The closer you get to people, the madder they seem – and I like to get close to my characters.’ Something To Tell You, though undeniably mad in places, is a truly impressive book, and may be Hanif Kureishi’s best novel yet.
Hanif Kureishi is in conversation with Rodge Glass, Mitchell Library, Glasgow, Fri 7 Mar, 7.30pm.