A grinding, persuasive power binds this collection of short fiction and essays, many of which have been published elsewhere in the past two or three years.
It's achieved without much charm or humour or prettiness. In an early story, The Racer (about a warring married couple - a favourite Kureishi subject), an exhausted runner reaches the brow of an urban street to be confronted by "the vast surprise of the river". It's an elegant, crisp image, but you could wait all day for another. In his impatience to get to matters of the mind, Kureishi is determined to avoid the merely pleasing. More often, characters are ushered on stage to bombard one another with lumps of argument, or thrown into dystopian hells to expose the membrane of civilisation that separates us from our real, unattractive selves.
There's much in the way of regret, envy, disaffection, rancour, despair and humiliation. Probably more hate than love. One imagines Kureishi - a professor of creative writing - pouring cold water on the principle of "showing, not telling", or dinning into his students why humanity's brighter side - generosity, warmth - are of no use to the serious novelist. For a writer, "human weakness, in all its variety, is the only subject there is".
Last year, he made headlines for dismissing creative writing courses as "a waste of time", though an essay produced at around the same time and reprinted here - Anarchy and the Imagination - offers poignant hope to anyone determined to make the miracle of art out of nothing but thought.
There are trenchant pieces about the immigrant's lot: a reading of E.R Braithwaite's 1959 novel, To Sir, With Love; stark memories of Enoch Powell; the fears whipped up by the free movement of today's Romanian potato-pickers. "Racism is the crack cocaine of politics," he says. And there's a dazzling essay on Kafka - as a man driven into making a bizarre literary confection of his life by a cruel father - that will take you back to The Metamorphosis with fresh eyes.
Time and again Kureishi returns his gaze to the creative urge. Imagination, he says in one piece, is the key not only to art but to new and better ways of being. In another, it is the bridge between hedonism and discipline, "where duty, magic and creativity fruitfully run into one another". He lauds the virtue of a wandering mind, and decries society's demand for homogenisation, particularly of the young.
In I Am The Future Boy, an insightful piece about intergenerational tensions, his thread inevitably leads to the act of writing, the impulse of the artist to reveal himself whatever the personal cost - to himself or, less heroically, those around him. Kureishi has never lacked that particular sense of mission. One remembers the howls of fury that greeted his self-exposing 1998 novel, Intimacy, a raw autobiographical study of adultery and break-up.
More recently, his life was turned upside down when he was robbed of his savings by a silver-tongued accountant. The result was his essay A Theft: My Con Man, a protracted psychodrama of promise and betrayal, with Kureishi at one point stalking the offender like a fevered lover.
The analogy is apt, with its familiar pattern of seduction, violation and abandonment. It's a mesmerising, painfully candid read. In other hands you could imagine the matter being settled with a baseball bat; true to form, Kureishi takes it far more seriously than that.
Love + Hate
by Hanif Kureishi
- Canvas, Observer