(First published 1998)
You are in a relationship, have two boys, a stable job, a home and apart from some minor arguments with your partner all is hunky dory. But you are not satisfied. In fact you are torn apart from inside. You are unhappy, sad and pathetic and feel like a living corpse. You want to be free; you want to unchain your soul and live for yourself. What do you do in this case? You do what the protagonist of this novel, Jay, did. He suddenly walked out on his family one quiet night never to return again.
My first novel of Kureishi turned out to be a tremendously intense and surprising read. Relatively small in size for a novel, it is more or less a monologue spanning one traumatic night; the deciding night when Jay finally puts everything aside and walks out on his family to escape his miseries.
Jay lives in a well-to-do part of London with his working partner, Susan, and their two young boys. His relationship with his partner is strained, or so he perceived it to be, but he cannot exactly point the reason for estrangement. He loves his sons. The whole narrative his loaded with the thoughts of a loving and caring dad whose life revolves around his sons and who derives pleasure and satisfaction having seen his boys grow up. He will have to do without his boys from that night onwards.
It is not a sudden decision. It is not a selfish decision either. He did try to think out the solutions. He did try to fix his life. He took extra-marital affairs to revive his dying emotions and depleting happiness when he gradually but finally realised that the relationship with his partner Susan had gone stale. It did not help. He knows when things began to fall apart. He also recognises things that drove him away from happiness and freedom but he doesn’t know why this happened. His life was set and fine. Where did this disenchantment come from? What is the origin of this state of misery and pain that he constantly feels?
Jay understands it is extremely mean and unethical to disappear on his family. There is a sharp sense of ethics embedded in his worldview. He is not making his family happy with current situation so he might as well not give them more pain if he continues with this life. Besides, he as an individual has right to happiness and personal satisfaction which is totally missing in his life and it is in that pursuit that he has taken the decision to walk out on his family.
It is a wonderfully articulated tale of a torn heart that is in search of ultimate pleasure and meaning of life. It can be seen as a strong exposition on the proverbial mid-life crisis that some people are reported to go through. The novel created a controversy in his family as they accused him of selling his private life for publicity and profit. Apparently it’s autobiographical in part as Hanif Kureishi separated from his spouse soon before writing the novel.
The book was heavily criticised especially by women groups for showing men “for what they are”: unfaithful, mean, pleasure-seeking beasts who lack empathy and have little concern for emotions and enduring love and familial responsibilities.
A very good book for the way it deals a difficult topic. My rating 4/5. AMAZON LINK