CW: this book includes drug use and infidelity, and scenes of domestic violence. All CWs are mild.
Happy Saturday! Apologies for the lack of a Wednesday post, but I’m currently having a little content shuffle-around. All will become clear in due course once it’s all figured out, but long story short, some of the things I previously posted here will now be featuring on a second blog! Keep your eyes peeled for more information on that in the next couple of weeks or, if you follow me on Twitter, you may have already seen a bit of what’s going on. Rest assured that review Saturdays are not changing, so here I am as usual, offering up a new book review. This week, I’m talking about The Last Word by Hanif Kureishi.
I was first introduced to Hanif Kureishi when My Beautiful Laundrette was included on one of my University modules as required watching. The film really grabbed me, with its exploration of race, class, politics, culture and sexuality in 1980s Britain. I admit I was hoping for The Last Word to have a similar atmosphere, but while it did not, it was still extremely clever, and engaging.
In The Last Word, we meet Harry, a young writer, who has been commissioned to write a biography of famous writer, Mamoon Azam. Right from the start is a conflict of interest: Harry’s publisher wants the biography to cause a splash with its scandal, while Harry has a deep admiration for Mamoon, and Mamoon himself is reluctant to offer up anything that may resemble the truth. These tensions run throughout the book, and of course, Harry’s investigations turn up a reasonably salacious story to satisfy his publishers, causing great distress and upset on the part of Mamoon and his wife Liana.
While the main plot of this book is very straightforward – Harry presses Maoon for information he is unwilling to offer up, and through various means of deception and persuasion, his life story gradually emerges – there are several sideplots that manage to mimic and expand upon several of the themes that emerge from Harry’s exploration of Mamoon’s life. Harry’s infidelity is one major side plot that echoes Mamoon’s sexual history, allowing a similar scenario to play out in real time as Harry explores the historical events. This parallel was really cleverly done, and offered an interesting perspective on infidelity. I really disliked Harry for his approach to relationships and his quite frankly awful treatment of women, but his character was really interesting.
All of the characters, including Harry, were pretty unlikeable, which I found refreshing. Even Alice, Harry’s girlfriend, came across as irritating and flighty. They were all messy characters, and they all had their own stories, issues, hangups and vices, which made them more interesting to read. I’d hate to meet any one of them in real life, but reading about them? Absolutely! My favourite was Liana, because I felt like she, of all of them, was the most honest, and possibly also the most kind-hearted, in a strange kind of way.
Kureishi’s writing is a pleasure to read. As well as believable, engaging characters, he offers fantastic dialogue, and his prose retains some of the grit that I so enjoyed in My Beautiful Laundrette. The setting he creates here of Mamoon and Liana’s mansion-esque country house is amazing, especially when contrasted with the tension and grit contained within.
I definitely recommend this book if you don’t mind a slow plot, and don’t mind reading unlikeable characters! I’d characterise this as literary fiction, but it’s definitely very accessible, and isn’t a long read either! It’s around 350 pages, and I read it in 3 sittings, I think, which is pretty good for me! I’m definitely going to read more by Kureishi, or perhaps watch more of his screenplays! Have you ever read anything by Kureishi?