A sexy, raunchy and exuberant novel

2009-04-28 00:00

THIS is a sexy, raunchy and exuberant novel, as you might expect from the author of The Buddha of Suburbia and the screenplay of My Beautiful Laundrette. The plot, which is convoluted and discursive, ultimately concerns an incident in the past of the narrator, fashionable psychologist Jamal Khan. It all happened a long time ago, and led indirectly to the departure from his life of his first love, Ajita.

But we are a long way into the book before exactly what happened is revealed. And in the meantime, Jamal is coping with the problems of middle age, his divorced wife, his growing son, his largely non-existent sex life and a wide circle of friends, ex-girlfriends and family.

His family includes his widowed mother turned lively lesbian and his sister Miriam. She is a wonderful comic creation: overweight, tattooed and with more piercings than Saint Sebastian. She has a large household of animals, children and hangers-on, and has just started an affair with Henry, Jamal’s once-famous theatre director friend. It seems an odd choice — Miriam is not really one for theatre, although she does enjoy the interval. But what really gets Miriam and Henry going is sex. And it is the kind of sex to seriously disturb Henry’s children when they catch them at it. It gives Kureishi a chance for some brilliantly comic scenes, such as when Jamal has to find an outfit to accompany Miriam and Henry to one of their favourite — and peculiar — sex clubs.

All these characters and their activities past and present fill this novel. To an extent, this means that when what happened in Jamal’s past is finally revealed, and comes back to haunt him in what could be a very unpleasant way, it almost seems to be an intrusion on Kureishi’s sprawling tale. But he manages to weave the whole together, and has produced a book that is both funny and profound — a great read.

Margaret von Klemperer

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