The Last Word
Allen & Unwin
It’s been six years since British playwright, screenwriter (My Beautiful Laundrette, Le Week-End) and The Buddha of Suburbia novelist Hanif Kureishi’s last book, Something To Tell You, and this, his latest, comes with its own intriguing conspiracy theory. The Last Word relays a battle of wits between English-based, Indian-born eminent writer Mamoon, with a fading reputation and bank balance, and his arrogantly womanising young biographer Harry. Bearing an uncannily satirical resemblance to the true story of VS Naipaul and his biographer Patrick French, Kureishi denies direct influence, instead suggesting it may well have more to do with the way he sees his own work. Kureishi seems to relish dropping several major clues as to the novel’s genesis.
The New Daily says: Whether it’s a spin on his own perceived fading glory or a twist on the Naipaul affair, The Last Word is a wickedly sharp affair that crackles with vicious energy. The cockfight between Mamoon and Harry is a hoot, even if it’s über-stylised to the point of farce. More archetypes than fully fleshed characters, there’s outrageous fun to be had in their theatrical clash. Other characters are more thinly sketched still, from Mamoon’s highly strung Italian wife Liana, obsessed with increasing his literary standing and possibly scoring a TV show, to Harry’s fashion-focused girlfriend Alice, who seems to be the only one who can tame the unruly Mamoon, but somehow it unravels gloriously. It’s a joy to lap up Kureishi’s deft use of the English language and the cheeky glee in lines like, “unread, unreadable, discarded, departed, a mountain of words washed into the sea and not coming back. Popeye the Sailor Man has more cultural longevity. Only women and poofs read or write now.”
The Times says: “This is his best work to date – it is very funny and goes beyond good taste at almost every point… But, unpleasant as it is to read in places, Kureishi has written a major work, founded on a major literary problem, set by a master of his craft.”
The Independent says: “The Last Word not only draws on a literary sub-genre about the oedipal stand-off between biographer and artist (from Maugham’s Cakes and Ale to Roth’s The Ghost Writer). Crucially, it also lends the ageing, snarling lion some traits of its author.”
The Spectator says: “Kureishi’s best works display emotional and philosophical truth. For all its cartoonish zest, The Last Word is ultimately a rather cruel, unlovable novel.”