mon 08/08/2022

Hanif Kureishi, Brighton Festival review - a combative, funny and moving talk | reviews, news & interviews

Hanif Kureishi, Brighton Festival review - a combative, funny and moving talk

Hanif Kureishi, Brighton Festival review - a combative, funny and moving talk

The veteran provocateur spars with his public

Hanif Kureishi: 'I got a new girlfriend, so everything I needed was at home'

Hanif Kureishi and his interviewer Mark Lawson are both wearing black Nike trainers, and long professional acquaintance makes them as comfortable with each other as an old, expensive pair of shoes.

Kureishi’s promo tour for his latest novel, The Nothing – about a film director reduced by age to an impotent, misanthropic “penis in a wheelchair” – has brought him to Brighton and Hove High School’s Assembly Hall on the Brighton Festival’s closing night. The clock heard during exams ticks loudly, but it takes audience questions to throw him off his amiably provocative stride.

Wearing an open-necked, light-blue shirt and olive-green trousers, with close-cropped white hair, bullishly confident body language and a deep voice suggesting easy command, at 62 Kureishi shows little sign of his latest anti-hero’s decline. The fashion for author talks can make thin entertainment, but an hour in his company is sparky good value. Well-honed anecdotes about the career-defining period between 1985’s My Beautiful Launderette screenplay and The Buddha of Suburbia’s 1993 TV adaptation are garnished with louche namedropping (“I remember Salman Rushdie saying to me…”), bawdy jokes and harmless personal revelations, such as a new taste for Scandi-noir and box-set binges, “because I got a new girlfriend, so everything I needed was at home. This is the first time I’ve been out in years…”

Warming up, his relish at button-pushing language kicks in. “I say I’m going to a Madrasa to radicalise the students,” he jokes of teaching creative writing. “I fatwaed one of my sons the other day...” The Lawson question which gives him pause, though, asks if he fears being targeted by Islamist extremists as Salman Rushdie was. Eyes darting as he prepares his response, he disingenuously declares that, unlike Rushdie, “I don’t know enough about Islam to be blasphemous.” His research in mosques where imams roamed the stage like rock stars as they declaimed on “Israel, homosexuality, lipstick” before his eventual ejection down the stairs, leading to his melancholy, prophetic screenplay My Son The Fanatic (1997), suggests otherwise.My Beautiful Laundrette“It strikes me that you’re very self-assured and almost invulnerable,” the first questioner from the floor asks with enviable penetration. “Have you got any vulnerabilities you’d like to tell us about?” Much defensive waffle later (“You’re doing a Theresa on us,” his inquisitor complains), Kureishi only admits to vulnerability when writing. Mixed feelings at watching a reader on the tube reading his novel Intimacy (“You’re not really concentrating on this, are you?”) and pub lunches with Samuel Beckett while an 18-year-old Royal Court prodigy (Beckett was generous, charming and “rather frisky” with women) are among the anecdotes others extract.

This may largely be a set-up for the book-signing that follows. But Kureishi’s importance to individuals in the room, and the boundaries he smashed right at his start with My Beautiful Launderette, are still movingly apparent - whether it’s the gay Asian man who was a closeted young immigrant when he saw Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke (pictured above) kiss, or the Asian woman who at 14 felt like an “alien” in Britain, but along with all her friends was exhilarated by Rita Wolf baring her breasts behind a room of pontificating, powerful Asian men. The scene was “spot on”, she tells Kureishi, who carefully explains its genesis. She’s still buzzing afterwards. Sometimes readers talking to writers does everyone good.

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