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  • 58 sb HanifKureshi.jpg 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-1

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    Hanif Kureishi

    Shepherd’s Bush market is quiet on weekday afternoons. Hanif Kureishi moves around the stalls – some selling tat, others jewellery, luggage and bolts of bright cloth – with a boxer’s hunched attentiveness. Then he stops, as if transfixed by a beautiful painting, or an instance of unexpected public nudity. ‘Look at that,’ he says, pointing at an illuminated, smoothly scrolling panorama of the Dubai skyline. ‘Isn’t it great? I really want one of those. But my missus won’t let me.’ He tries to get me to buy it for my daughter – ‘Go on, it’s a tenner. She’d love it’ – but I make the same cast-iron excuse.

    We exit on to Goldhawk Road. In the mid-’60s this was a drag strip for mods, but it’s long been a magnet for immigrant communities. A character in Kureishi’s new novel, ‘Something To Tell You’, observes that the area now resembles ‘a great Middle Eastern city’, although narrator Jamal’s take is less romantic: ‘Alcoholics and nutters begged and disputed on the street continuously; drug dealers on bikes waited on street corners.’

    56 SB INTIMACY 2.jpg
    'Intimacy' the film

    ‘They haven’t really gentrified Shepherd’s Bush,’ says Kureishi of the place he’s called home since 1993. ‘They’ve tried to. When I moved here, I bought another house as well. The estate agent said, “This is great, in ten years it’ll be worth a million quid. I walked past it the other day and there were two guys pissing in the basement. If I see that fucking estate agent again…’

    Kureishi lives with his partner and youngest son. His two other sons, twins, live round the corner with his ex-partner. This might surprise anyone who has read ‘Intimacy’, the grimly compelling novella Kureishi wrote about their separation, but he says it works: ‘It wouldn’t for everyone, but it does for us. And I like to see the boys, to be part of their everyday lives.’

    Ramzi Mohammed, the only one of the July 21 bombers to leave a suicide note, ran a stall here, handing out free books and tapes promoting Islam. Kureishi and I are about to pass an Islamic bookshop when suddenly he has an idea: ‘Come on, let’s find some books about bomb-making!’ We look hard, but there don’t seem to be any. There is, however, a video called ‘Why Islam Rejects Terrorism’. Kureishi chuckles: ‘You don’t read about that in the papers, do you?’

    Kureishi is 53 now, with a shock of well-cut salt-and-pepper hair. The world was very different in 1990, the year his first novel ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ came out. He remembers ‘some condescension; it wasn’t thought to be a proper literary novel’, but it now enjoys classic, set-text status.

    ‘Buddha’ was part of what publishers like to call ‘the first wave of immigrant writing’, blasting a path for Zadie Smith, Monica Ali et al. Kureishi’s interest is still in London as a world city, a hub of shifting, competing ethnicities. ‘I was in Germany a couple of weeks ago and they don’t have any understanding of that at all,’ he says. ‘They referred to me all the time as an immigrant, as if I’d just got off the fucking boat with my bag. They’d ask things like, “As an immigrant family, are you feeling more settled in England now?” I’d think: For God’s sake! You don’t have any idea, do you? Germans have this sense of themselves as a Teutonic homogenous race with all this riff-raff around the side.’

    It’s a shock to revisit earlier Kureishi works like ‘The Black Album’ and ‘My Son The Fanatic’ and realise just how accurately he predicted the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, bombs and all. In his first film, ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’, there’s a famous piece of dialogue where one of the characters says of Pakistan, ‘This country is being sodomised by religion. It’s starting to interfere with the making of money.’ Is that becoming true of Britain? Could anyone have predicted 20 years ago that the Archbishop of Canterbury would one day give a speech recommending the accommodation of sharia law?

    ‘It’s just funny, isn’t it? Very, very funny. My friend [director] Stephen Frears has a house in Dorset, and as we’re sitting around down there watching TV we discuss our idea for a film a bit like “Passport to Pimlico” in which sharia law is introduced into Dorset. You know: if you take multiculturalism all the way, that’s what you end up with – amputations in Dorset.’ He laughs. ‘It’s the ultimate irony. The West tried so hard after Nietzsche to remove religion from its structures. You have a couple of decades without much of it and then it comes back with a bang. You can’t say fairer than that. Even a Freudian would laugh. The return of the repressed!’

    As it happens, repression (of memories and desires) is one of the main themes of ‘Something To Tell You’ – a vital, teeming, panoramic, immersive novel which straddles three decades in the life of its psychotherapist narrator, a man who has seen and heard everything, but also committed a crime which, though arguably honourable, continues to haunt him. It’s one of Kureishi’s best, and looks set to be his biggest commercial success since ‘Buddha’: in a move almost unprecedented for literary fiction, Tesco is stocking it. ‘Faber kept phoning me to tell me,’ says Kureishi. ‘They were really excited. It didn’t seem very impressive to me, and then I realised it was.’ He sighs. ‘ “Literary fiction”. If you hear those words, you might as well cut your fucking throat.’

    The novel took Kureishi a long time to write (‘five, six, seven years’). ‘I wanted it to be like “Buddha” only modern,’ he explains. ‘The love story came first: a boy and a girl, two Indians, at university during punk. It was going to be a novella, but it bored me. When I turned 50 I realised I’d lived for quite a long time. I’d lived through all this stuff and I wanted to put it all in.’

    Being an analyst grants Jamal access to all areas of society. He can go up to glitzy parties (there’s a funny scene with Mick Jagger in a Claridge’s suite), then down to brothels and piss-stinking pubs. ‘You need that in a narrator,’ Kureishi concedes, ‘otherwise you can’t knit all the different bits of a novel together. Society is so divided; someone like Dickens would have known everybody – politicians, lawyers, publishers. But it’s difficult to move from here to the Law Courts. I grew up on the nineteenth-century novel, on Stendhal, Balzac, Dickens and Tolstoy, and I think most of us still think that that’s what the novel is: capacious and deeply philosophical and political, but also a soap opera.’

    Kureishi might have added: and full of sex. There’s lots of sex in ‘Something To Tell You’, as there is in everything he writes. Charlie and Karim from ‘Buddha’ make guest appearances – for an orgy. And Jamal always seems to be having sex. He walks into rooms and women drop to their knees and unzip him. What’s his secret?

    Kureishi giggles. ‘Actually, I showed an early draft to a friend and she pointed out a place in the book where Jamal says, “I’ve always been promiscuous.” And she said, “Well, he’s not that promiscuous. His wife won’t shag him and he never shags anyone else apart from a few whores.” So yes, I put in a bit more just to cheer him up. I know the scenes you’re referring to, ha ha!’

    Even the prostitutes seem to be having fun. ‘I wouldn’t have said that,’ he counters. ‘I don’t think he would think for a moment that he’s giving deep satisfaction to these women. But he does have a good time, and I’m glad he does. Analysts can always get laid because they know how to listen to women. Chicks love them.’

    I assume Kureishi has had therapy himself? ‘Yeah. There were times in my life when it stopped me being self-destructive. The rest of the time it’s a bit like personal grooming – like having a haircut. It just cheers you up.’

    Kureishi tries to keep a strict routine, getting up at seven and writing until noon. He teaches, too – creative writing at Kingston University, for which he is paid, he says, considerably less than the £80,000 a year Martin Amis is alleged to earn at Manchester. Amis’s interest in Islam intrigues Kureishi: ‘He must have known that the most interesting subjects for a long time have been race and religion, so he had to get onto it, as he has with this new book [‘The Second Plane’]. But Amis has never met a Muslim. The only Muslim he’s ever met is Salman [Rushdie]! Salman must be his model, ha ha ha!’

    We walk around Shepherd’s Bush Green, past the shopping centre and the Vue cinema and down towards Holland Park. We say goodbye outside the tube station. Kureishi says he’s going home, but I don’t believe him. I think he’s going straight back to the market to buy a flashing Jesus tea-tray.

    Interview John O'Connell. Portrait Rob Greig.

    ‘Something To Tell You’ will be published by Faber on March 6.

    30-21 | 20-11 | 10-1

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‘They haven’t really gentrified Shepherd’s Bush,’ says Kureishi of the place he’s called home since 1993. ‘They’ve tried to. When I moved here, I bought another house as well. The estate agent said, “This is great, in ten years it’ll be worth a million quid. I walked past it the other day and there were two guys pissing in the basement. If I see that fucking estate agent again…’Kureishi lives with his partner and youngest son. His two other sons, twins, live round the corner with his ex-partner. This might surprise anyone who has read ‘Intimacy’, the grimly compelling novella Kureishi wrote about their separation, but he says it works: ‘It wouldn’t for everyone, but it does for us. And I like to see the boys, to be part of their everyday lives.’Ramzi Mohammed, the only one of the July 21 bombers to leave a suicide note, ran a stall here, handing out free books and tapes promoting Islam. Kureishi and I are about to pass an Islamic bookshop when suddenly he has an idea: ‘Come on, let’s find some books about bomb-making!’ We look hard, but there don’t seem to be any. There is, however, a video called ‘Why Islam Rejects Terrorism’. Kureishi chuckles: ‘You don’t read about that in the papers, do you?’ Kureishi is 53 now, with a shock of well-cut salt-and-pepper hair. The world was very different in 1990, the year his first novel ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ came out. He remembers ‘some condescension; it wasn’t thought to be a proper literary novel’, but it now enjoys classic, set-text status.‘Buddha’ was part of what publishers like to call ‘the first wave of immigrant writing’, blasting a path for Zadie Smith, Monica Ali et al. Kureishi’s interest is still in London as a world city, a hub of shifting, competing ethnicities. ‘I was in Germany a couple of weeks ago and they don’t have any understanding of that at all,’ he says. ‘They referred to me all the time as an immigrant, as if I’d just got off the fucking boat with my bag. They’d ask things like, “As an immigrant family, are you feeling more settled in England now?” I’d think: For God’s sake! You don’t have any idea, do you? Germans have this sense of themselves as a Teutonic homogenous race with all this riff-raff around the side.’ It’s a shock to revisit earlier Kureishi works like ‘The Black Album’ and ‘My Son The Fanatic’ and realise just how accurately he predicted the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, bombs and all. In his first film, ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’, there’s a famous piece of dialogue where one of the characters says of Pakistan, ‘This country is being sodomised by religion. It’s starting to interfere with the making of money.’ Is that becoming true of Britain? Could anyone have predicted 20 years ago that the Archbishop of Canterbury would one day give a speech recommending the accommodation of sharia law? ‘It’s just funny, isn’t it? Very, very funny. My friend [director] Stephen Frears has a house in Dorset, and as we’re sitting around down there watching TV we discuss our idea for a film a bit like “Passport to Pimlico” in which sharia law is introduced into Dorset. You know: if you take multiculturalism all the way, that’s what you end up with – amputations in Dorset.’ He laughs. ‘It’s the ultimate irony. The West tried so hard after Nietzsche to remove religion from its structures. You have a couple of decades without much of it and then it comes back with a bang. You can’t say fairer than that. Even a Freudian would laugh. The return of the repressed!’ As it happens, repression (of memories and desires) is one of the main themes of ‘Something To Tell You’ – a vital, teeming, panoramic, immersive novel which straddles three decades in the life of its psychotherapist narrator, a man who has seen and heard everything, but also committed a crime which, though arguably honourable, continues to haunt him. It’s one of Kureishi’s best, and looks set to be his biggest commercial success since ‘Buddha’: in a move almost unprecedented for literary fiction, Tesco is stocking it. ‘Faber kept phoning me to tell me,’ says Kureishi. ‘They were really excited. It didn’t seem very impressive to me, and then I realised it was.’ He sighs. ‘ “Literary fiction”. If you hear those words, you might as well cut your fucking throat.’The novel took Kureishi a long time to write (‘five, six, seven years’). ‘I wanted it to be like “Buddha” only modern,’ he explains. ‘The love story came first: a boy and a girl, two Indians, at university during punk. It was going to be a novella, but it bored me. When I turned 50 I realised I’d lived for quite a long time. I’d lived through all this stuff and I wanted to put it all in.’Being an analyst grants Jamal access to all areas of society. He can go up to glitzy parties (there’s a funny scene with Mick Jagger in a Claridge’s suite), then down to brothels and piss-stinking pubs. ‘You need that in a narrator,’ Kureishi concedes, ‘otherwise you can’t knit all the different bits of a novel together. Society is so divided; someone like Dickens would have known everybody – politicians, lawyers, publishers. But it’s difficult to move from here to the Law Courts. I grew up on the nineteenth-century novel, on Stendhal, Balzac, Dickens and Tolstoy, and I think most of us still think that that’s what the novel is: capacious and deeply philosophical and political, but also a soap opera.’Kureishi might have added: and full of sex. There’s lots of sex in ‘Something To Tell You’, as there is in everything he writes. Charlie and Karim from ‘Buddha’ make guest appearances – for an orgy. And Jamal always seems to be having sex. He walks into rooms and women drop to their knees and unzip him. What’s his secret? Kureishi giggles. ‘Actually, I showed an early draft to a friend and she pointed out a place in the book where Jamal says, “I’ve always been promiscuous.” And she said, “Well, he’s not that promiscuous. His wife won’t shag him and he never shags anyone else apart from a few whores.” So yes, I put in a bit more just to cheer him up. I know the scenes you’re referring to, ha ha!’ Even the prostitutes seem to be having fun. ‘I wouldn’t have said that,’ he counters. ‘I don’t think he would think for a moment that he’s giving deep satisfaction to these women. But he does have a good time, and I’m glad he does. Analysts can always get laid because they know how to listen to women. Chicks love them.’I assume Kureishi has had therapy himself? ‘Yeah. There were times in my life when it stopped me being self-destructive. The rest of the time it’s a bit like personal grooming – like having a haircut. It just cheers you up.’Kureishi tries to keep a strict routine, getting up at seven and writing until noon. He teaches, too – creative writing at Kingston University, for which he is paid, he says, considerably less than the £80,000 a year Martin Amis is alleged to earn at Manchester. Amis’s interest in Islam intrigues Kureishi: ‘He must have known that the most interesting subjects for a long time have been race and religion, so he had to get onto it, as he has with this new book [‘The Second Plane’]. But Amis has never met a Muslim. The only Muslim he’s ever met is Salman [Rushdie]! Salman must be his model, ha ha ha!’ We walk around Shepherd’s Bush Green, past the shopping centre and the Vue cinema and down towards Holland Park. We say goodbye outside the tube station. Kureishi says he’s going home, but I don’t believe him. I think he’s going straight back to the market to buy a flashing Jesus tea-tray. 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-1

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