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Together in one volume -- Hanif Kureishi's highly acclaimed and controversial novel, Intimacy, and, available for the first time, his latest collection of provocative short stories, Midnight All Day.
Jay, the narrator of Intimacy, tells his story on the night he is preparing to leave his lover, Susan, and their two boys. Stripping away all posturing and self-justification, Hanif Kureishi explores the fears and desires that drive a man to leave a woman. Midnight All Day is an astonishing, darkly comic collection of new stories, in which Kureishi confirms his reputation as one of our foremost chroniclers of the loveless, the lost and the dispossessed. The characters are familiar in the cultural landscape of the nineties: frustrated and intoxicated, melancholic and sensitive, yet capable of great cruelty, and if necessary, willing to break the constraints of an old life to make way for the new.
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Hanif Kureishi won the prestigious Whitbread Prize for The Buddha of Suburbia 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.:
It is the saddest night, for I am leaving and not coming back. Tomorrow morning, when the woman I have lived with for six years has gone to work on her bicycle, and our children have been taken to the park with their ball, I will pack some things into a suitcase, slip out of my house hoping that no one will see me, and take the tube to Victor's place. There, for an unspecified period, I will sleep on the floor in the tiny room he has kindly offered me, next to the kitchen. Each morning I will heave the thin single mattress back to the airing cupboard. I will stuff the musty duvet into a box. I will replace the cushions on the sofa.
I will not be returning to this life. I cannot. Perhaps I should leave a note to convey this information. "Dear Susan, I am not coming back..." Perhaps it would be better to ring tomorrow afternoon. Or I could visit at the weekend. The details I haven't decided. Almost certainly I will not tell her my intentions this evening or tonight. I will put if off. Why? Because words are actions and they make things happen. Once they are out you cannot put them back. Something irrevocable will have been done, and I am fearful and uncertain. As a matter of fact, I am trembling, and have been all afternoon, all day.
This, then, could be our last evening as an innocent, complete, ideal family; my last night with a woman I have known for ten years, a woman I know almost everything about, and want no more of. Soon we will be like strangers. No, we can never be that. Hurting someone is an act of reluctant intimacy. We will be dangerous acquaintances with a history. That first time she put her hand on my arm -- I wish I had turned away. Why didn't I? The waste; the waste of time and feeling. She has said something similar about me. But do we mean it? I am in at least three minds about all questions.
I perch on the edge of the bath and watch my sons, aged five and three, one at each end. Their toys, plastic animals and bottles float on the surface, and they chatter to themselves and one another, neither fighting nor whingeing, for a change. They are ebullient and fierce, and people say what happy and affectionate children they are. This morning, before I set out for the day, knowing I had to settle a few things in my mind, the elder boy, insisting on another kiss before I closed the door, said, "Daddy, I love everyone."
Tomorrow I will do something that will damage and scar them.
The younger boy has been wearing chinos, a grey shirt, blue braces and a policeman's helmet. As I toss the clothes in the washing basket, I am disturbed by a sound outside. I hold my breath.
She is pushing her bicycle into the hall. She is removing the shopping bags from the basket.
Over the months, and particularly the last few days, wherever I am -- working, talking, waiting for the bus -- I have contemplated this rupture from all angles. Several times I have missed my tube stop, or have found myself in a familiar place that I haven't recognized. I don't always know where I am, which can be a pleasurably demanding experience. But these days I tend to feel I am squinting at things upside down.
I have been trying to convince myself that leaving someone isn't the worst thing you can do to them. Sombre it may be, but it doesn't have to be a tragedy. If you never left anything or anyone there would be no room for the new. Naturally, to move on is an infidelity -- to others, to the past, to old notions of oneself. Perhaps every day should contain at least one essential infidelity or necessary betrayal. It would be an optimistic, hopeful act, guaranteeing belief in the future -- a declaration that things can be not only different but better.
Therefore I am exchanging Susan, my children, my house, and the garden full of dope plants and cherry blossom I can see through the bathroom window, for a spot at Victor's where there will be draughts and dust on the floor.
Eight years ago Victor left his wife. Since then -- even excepting the Chinese prostitute who played the piano naked and brought all her belongings to their assignations -- he has had only unsatisfactory loves. If the phone rings he does a kind of panicky dance, wondering what opprobrium may be on the way, and from which direction. Victor, you see, can give women hope, if not satisfaction.
We find pubs and restaurants more congenial. I must say that when Victor isn't sitting in the dark, his eyes sunken and pupils dilated with incomprehension and anger, he can be easy-going, even amusing. He doesn't mind whether I am silent or voluble. He is used to the way I dash from subject to subject, following the natural momentum of my mind. If I ask him why his wife still hates him, he will tell me. Like my children I appreciate a good story, particularly if I've heard it before. I want all the details and atmosphere. But he speaks slowly, as some Englishmen do. Often I have no idea whether he is merely waiting for another word to occur or will, perhaps, never speak again. I can only welcome such intervals as the opportunity for reverie. But will I want monologues and pauses, draughts and pubs, every day?
Susan is in the room now.
She says, "Why don't you ever shut the bathroom door?"
"Why don't you?"
I can't think of a reason.
She is busily kissing the children. I love her enthusiasm for them. When we really talk, it is about them, something they have said or done, as if they are a passion no one else can share or understand.
Susan doesn't touch me but presents her cheek a few inches from my lips, so that to kiss her I must lean forward, thus humiliating both of us. She smells of perfume and the street.
She goes to change and returns in jeans and sweatshirt, with a glass of wine for each of us.
"Hallo. How are you?"
She looks at me hard, in order to have me notice her. I feel my body contract and shrink.
"Okay," I reply.
I nod and smile. Does she see anything different in my face today? Have I given myself away yet? I must look beaten. Usually, before seeing her I prepare two or three likely subjects, as if our conversations are examinations. You see, she accuses me of being silent with her. If only she knew how I stammer within. Today, I have been too feverish to rehearse. This afternoon was particularly difficult. And silence, like darkness, can be kind; it, too, is a language. Couples have good reason for not speaking.
She talks of how her work colleagues have let her down.
"They are not good enough," she says.
"Is that right?"
It has been difficult for her since the publishing house was taken over. But she is a woman of strong feelings anyway, of either dislike or enthusiasm. Generally they are of dislike. Others, including me, infuriate and frustrate her. It is disturbing, the way I am compelled to share her feelings, though I don't know the people. As she talks I see why I leave the bathroom door open. I can't be in a room with her for too long without feeling that there is something I must do to stop her being so angry. But I never know what I should do, and soon I feel as if she is shoving me against the wall and battering me.
The boys' bath water drains away slowly, as their toys impede the plughole. They won't move until the water is gone, and then they sit there making moustaches and hats with the remaining bubbles. Eventually I lift the younger one out. Susan takes the other.
We wrap them in thick hooded towels. With damp hair and beads of water on their necks, and being so tired and all, the boys look like diminutive boxers after a match. They argue about what pyjamas they want to wear. The younger one will only wear a Batman T-shirt. They seem to have become self-conscious at an early age. They must have got it from us.
Susan gives the younger boy a bottle, which he holds up to his mouth two-handedly, like a trumpeter. I watch her caressing his hair, kissing his dimpled fingers and rubbing his stomach. He giggles and squirms. What a quality of innocence people have when they don't expect to be harmed. Who could violate it without damaging himself? At school -- I must have been eight or nine -- there sat next to me a smelly boy from a poor family. One day, when we all stood, his leg slipped down behind the bench. Deliberately I jerked it up, trapping his leg. The look on his face of inexplicable and unexpected pain has stayed with me. You can choose whether to do others good or harm.
We take the children downstairs, where they lie on cushions, nonchalantly sucking their dummies, watching The Wizard of Oz with their eyes half open. They look like a couple of swells smoking cigars in a field on a hot day. They demand ginger biscuits, as if I am a butler. I fetch them from the kitchen without Susan noticing me. The boys extend their greedy fingers but don't look away from the TV. As the film runs they not only murmur the dialogue but echo the sound effects too. After a while, I pick up the crumbs and, having considered what to do with them, fling them in a corner.
Susan works in the kitchen, listening to the radio and looking out at the garden. She enjoys that. Her own family life, like mine, has mostly been unpleasant. Now she goes to a lot of trouble to shop well and make good meals. Even if we're having a takeaway, she won't let us eat in a slew of newspapers, children's books and correspondence. She puts out napkins, lights candles and opens the wine, insisting we have a proper family meal, including nervy silences and severe arguments.
She likes auctions, where she buys unusual pictures, prints and furniture, often with worn velvet attached to some part of them. We have a lot of lamps, cushions and curtains, some of which hang across the middle of the room, as if a play is about to start, and from which I try to stop the boys swinging. There are deep armchairs, televisions, telephones, pianos, music systems and the latest magazines and newest books in every room. Most people don't have comfort, plenty and ease like this.
At home I don't feel at home. In the morning I will let go of it. Definitely. B...
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