Something to Tell You
by Hanif Kureishi
Reviewed by John Leonard
Jamal Khan, the analyst-hero of Hanif Kureishi's wonderful new novel, Something to Tell You (Scribner, $17), asks most of the important questions in the very first paragraph of this satiric romp through a midlife crisis and swinging twenty-first century London. As in every analytic confrontation, the stranger inside must open his mouth to ask "why love is difficult, sex complicated, living painful and death so close and yet placed far away." Why, in addition, "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?" And damned if, three hundred pages later, Jamal hasn't come up with some actual answers: working, reading, thinking, writing, eating, talking...
But not before a murder mystery in which we root for the killer against his victim, a re-reading of Sigmund Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents as if it were The Divine Comedy, a nest of parables about fatherhood, a tart and smoky antidote to V. S. Naipaul's aspirin taste, a send-up of London's chattering classes as witty as Doris Lessing, an anthropology of East Asia meets John Bull as shrewdly observed and wickedly indulgent as Zadie Smith and Monica Ali (Kureishi, you'll recall, wrote the screenplays for My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rose Get Laid), and sociology of class, gender, race, and religion that includes tattoos, iPods, cocaine, Prozac, vibrators, Lou Reed, Jen Genet, Uncle Vanya, Sufism, incest, and a stolen hand. Jamal may remind you at first of one of Philip Roth's middle-aged little boys refusing to be socialized, insisting he's transgressive. But what he really wants, "once more, perhaps for the last time," is adult love, not teen sex.
John Leonard was the New Books columnist for Harper's Magazine and a media critic for New York Magazine, The Nation, and CBS News Sunday Morning. His books include Lonesome Rangers, When The Kissing Had To Stop, and The Last Innocent White Man In America.