THE STUNNINGLY ORIGINAL, ICONOCLASTIC, AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR OF THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA RETURNS WITH HIS FINEST, MOST EXUBERANT NOVEL.
In the early 1980s Hanif Kureishi emerged as one of the most compelling new voices in film and fiction. His movies My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and his novel The Buddha of Suburbia captivated audiences and inspired other artists. In Something to Tell You, he travels back to those days of hedonism, activism and glorious creativity. And he explores the lives of that generation now, in a very different London.
Jamal is middle-aged, though reluctant to admit it. He has an ex-wife, a son he adores, a thriving career as a psychoanalyst and vast reserves of unsatisfied desire. "Secrets are my currency," he says. "I deal in them for a living." And he has some of his own. He is haunted by Ajita, his first love, whom he hasn't seen in decades, and by an act of violence he has never confessed.
With great empathy and agility, Kureishi has created an array of unforgettable characters -- a hilarious and eccentric theater director, a covey of charming and defiant outcasts and an ebullient sister who thrives on the fringe. All wrestle with their own limits as human beings; all are plagued by the past until they find it within themselves to forgive.
Comic, wise and unfailingly tender, Something to Tell You is Kureishi's best work to date, brilliant and exhilarating.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Hanif Kureishi won the prestigious Whitbread Prize and was twice nominated for Oscars for best original screenplay (My Beautiful Laundrette and Venus, which starred Peter O'Toole). In 2010 Kureishi received the prestigious PEN/Pinter Prize. He lives in London.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Secrets are my currency: I deal in them for a living. The secrets of desire, of what people really want, and of what they fear the most. The secrets of why love is difficult, sex complicated, living painful and death so close and yet placed far away. Why are pleasure and punishment closely related? How do our bodies speak? Why do we make ourselves ill? Why do you want to fail? Why is pleasure hard to bear?
A woman has just left my consulting room. Another will arrive in twenty minutes. I adjust the cushions on the analytic couch and relax in my armchair in a different silence, sipping tea, considering images, sentences and words from our conversation, as well as the joins and breaks between them.
As I do often these days, I begin to think over my work, the problems I struggle with, and how this came to be my livelihood, my vocation, my enjoyment. It is even more puzzling to me to think that my work began with a murder -- today is the anniversary, but how do you mark such a thing? -- followed by my first love, Ajita, going away forever.
I am a psychoanalyst. In other words, a reader of minds and signs. Sometimes I am called shrinkster, healer, detective, opener of doors, dirt digger or plain charlatan or fraud. Like a car mechanic on his back, I work with the underneath or understory: fantasies, wishes, lies, dreams, nightmares -- the world beneath the world, the true words beneath the false. The weirdest intangible stuff I take seriously; I'm into places where language can't go, or where it stops -- the "indescribable" -- and early in the morning too.
Giving sorrow other words, I hear of how people's desire and guilt upsets and terrorises them, the mysteries that burn a hole in the self and distort and even cripple the body, the wounds of experience, reopened for the good of the soul as it is made over.
At the deepest level people are madder than they want to believe. You will find that they fear being eaten, and are alarmed by their desire to devour others. They also imagine, in the ordinary course of things, that they will explode, implode, dissolve or be invaded. Their daily lives are penetrated by fears that their love relations involve, among other things, the exchange of urine and faeces.
Always, before any of this began, I enjoyed gossip, an essential qualification for the job. Now I get to hear a lot of it, a river of human effluvium flowing into me, day after day, year after year. Like many modernists, Freud privileged detritus; you could call him the first artist of the "found," making meaning out of that which is usually discarded. It is dirty work, getting closely acquainted with the human.
There is something else going on in my life now, almost an incest, and who could have predicted it? My older sister, Miriam, and my best friend, Henry, have conceived a passion for each other. All our separate existences are being altered, indeed shaken, by this unlikely liaison.
I say unlikely because these are quite different kinds of people, who you would never think of as a couple. He is a theatre and film director, a brazen intellectual whose passion is for talk, ideas and the new. She couldn't be rougher, though she was always considered "bright." They have been aware of one another for years; she has sometimes accompanied me to his shows.
I guess my sister had always been waiting for me to invite her out; it took me a while to notice. Though an effort on occasion -- her knees are crumbling and can't take her increasing weight -- it was good for Miriam to leave the house, the kids and the neighbours. She was usually impressed and bored. She liked everything about the theatre but the plays. Her preferred part was the interval, when there was booze, cigarettes and air. I agree with her. I've seen many bad shows, but some of them had great intervals. Henry, himself, would inevitably fall asleep within fifteen minutes of the start of any play, particularly if it was directed by a friend, his furry head resting on your neck while he gurgled gently in your ear like a polluted brook.
Miriam knew Henry would never take her opinions seriously, but she wasn't afraid of him or his pomposity. It was said of Henry, and particularly of his work, that you had to praise him until you blushed, and then build from there. Miriam was not a praiser; she didn't see the need for it. She even liked to needle Henry. One time, in the foyer after an Ibsen or Molière, or maybe it was an opera, she announced that the piece was too long.
Everyone in the vicinity held their breath until he said through his grey beard, in his deep voice, "That, I'm afraid, is exactly the time it took to get from the beginning to the end."
"Well, they could have been closer together, that's all I'm saying" was Miriam's reply.
Now there is something going on between the two of them -- who are much closer together than before.
It occurred like this.
If Henry is not rehearsing or teaching, he strolls round to my place at lunchtime, as he did a few months ago, having rung Maria first. Maria, slow-moving, kind, easily shocked, indeed mortified -- originally my cleaner but a woman I have come to rely on -- prepares the food downstairs, which I like to be ready when I've finished with my last patient of the morning.
I am always glad to see Henry. In his company I can relax and do nothing important. You can say what you like, but all of us analysts go at it for long hours. I might see my first patient at 6:00 a.m. and not stop until one o'clock. After, I eat, make notes, walk or nap, until it's time for me to start listening again, into the early evening.
I can hear him, his voice booming from the table just outside the back door, before I am anywhere near the kitchen. His monologues are a torment for Maria, who has the misfortune to take people's words seriously.
"If only you understood me, Maria, and could see that my life is a terrible humiliation, a nothing."
"It is not, surely? Mr. Richardson, such a man as you must -- "
"I am telling you I am dying of cancer and my career is a disaster."
(She will come to me later whispering, fearfully, "Is he really dying of cancer?"
"Not that I know."
"Is his career a disaster?"
"There are few people more eminent."
"Why does he say such things? What strange people they are, artists!")
He continues: "Maria, my last two productions, the Così, and the version of The Master and Margarita in New York, bored me to death. They were successes, but not difficult enough for me. There was no struggle, no risk of annihilation. I want that!"
"Then my son brings a woman into my flat more beautiful than Helen of Troy! I am universally hated -- strangers spit in my open mouth!"
"Oh, no, no, no!"
"Just look at the newspapers. I am more hated than Tony Blair, and there's a man who is universally loathed."
"Yes, he is terrible, everybody says, but you have not invaded anyone, or permitted them to be tortured at Guantánamo. You are loved!" There was a pause. "Yes, you see, you know it!"
"I don't want to be loved. I want to be desired. Love is safety, but desire is foul. 'Give me excess of it...' The awful thing is, the less one is capable of sex, the more one is capable of love, the pure thing. Nobody but you understands me. Is it too late, do you think, for me to become homosexual?"
"I don't believe it's a choice, Mr. Richardson. But you must consult Dr. Khan. He should be along shortly."
The doors were open onto my little garden with its three trees and patch of grass. There were flowers on the table outside and Henry sitting at it, his stomach out front, a convenient cushion for his hands to rest on, if he wasn't scratching. On his knee was my grey cat, Marcel, given to me by Miriam, a cat who wanted to smell everything, and who had to be regularly hauled from the room where I saw patients.
Having already dismissed half a bottle of good wine -- "I don't believe there's any alcohol in white!" -- Henry was talking to himself, or free-associating, via Maria, who believed it was a conversation.
In the kitchen I was washing my hands. "I want to be drunk," I could hear him saying. "I've wasted my life being respectable. I've reached the age when women feel safe around me! So alcohol improves my temper -- everyone's temper."
"It does? But you did tell me, when you came in, that they want you at the Paris Opera."
"They'll take anyone. Maria, I am aware you like culture far more than I do. You are a darling of the cheap seats, and every morning on the bus you read. But culture is ice creams, intervals, sponsors, critics and the same bored, overrefined queens who go to everything. There is culture, which is nothing, and there is the wasteland. Just leave London or turn on the TV and there it is. Ugly, puritanical, prurient, stupid, and people like Blair saying they don't understand modern art, and our future king, Charles the Arse, rushing towards the past. Once I believed the two might overlap, the common and the high. Can you believe it? Oh, Maria, I knew my life was over when I decided to take up watercolours -- "
"At least you don't clean toilets for a living. Come on, try these tomatoes. Open wide and don't spit."
"Oh, delicious. Where did you get these?"
"Tesco's. Use a napkin. It's all gone in your beard. You're attracting the flies!"
She was flapping at him. "Thank you, Mother," he said. He looked up as I sat down. "Jamal," he said, "stop giggling and tell me: Have you read the Symposium lately?"
"Hush, you bad man, let the doctor eat," said Maria. "He hasn't even put a piece of bread in his mouth yet." I thought for a moment she was going to smack his hand. "Dr. Khan's heard enough talk this morning. He's so kind to listen to these people, when they should be chained up in the asylum. How smutty some of them are! When I open the door, even the ordinary ones like to ask me questions about the doctor. Where does he take his holidays, where has his wife gone? They get nothing from me."...
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