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Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi
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Something to Tell You (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Hanif Kureishi

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390427,499 (3.25)7
Member:dylanwolf
Title:Something to Tell You
Authors:Hanif Kureishi
Info:Faber and Faber (2008), Paperback, 528 pages
Collections:KEN - NAI
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Tags:England, tbr

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Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi (2008)

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Hanif Kureishi's debut novel "The Buddha of Suburbia", concerned itself with a young half English, half Asian man growing up in 1970s Bromley in southeast London called Karim. A quarter of a century later, Kureishi's 8th novel, "Something to Tell You", whilst largely set in 21st century London, concerns itself with a young half English, half-Asian man who grew up in 1970s Bromley called, er, Jamal. Kureishi himself is half English, half Asian and grew up in Bromley. This author would seem to have taken the maxim to write about what you know to heart.

Jamal is, however, a 50ish psychotherapist rather than a 50ish novelist, playwright and screenwriter, so perhaps "Something to Tell You" shouldn't be read as thinly disguised autobiography. He has an uber-chav sister, the heavily pierced and tattooed Miriam, who is conducting an increasingly kinky affair with Jamal's best friend Henry, a flamboyant theatre director. Jamal himself is estranged from his wife Josephine and still fancies himself as down with the kids such as his 11 year old son Rafi. He still pines for his first love Ajita, from whom he has harboured a terrible secret. Although still in touch with Ajita's brother, the gay Mushtaq who has since re-invented himself as a pop singer, he hasn't seen Ajita for three decades but now, married and living in America, she walks back into his life.

Actually, the plot of "Something to Tell You" seems almost coincidental to this rather rambling book. This is very much a character driven novel, although at the same time few of the characters feel three dimensional. It reminded me in a strange way of some of Woody Allen's work. As many of Allen's films do with New York, this is a portrait of London life as lived by the affluent and artistic and provides a rather skewed view as a result. Characters such as Miriam, folk singing taxi driver Bushy and the deinzens of The Cross Keys, a down at heel pub-cum-strip joint Jamal frequents for reasons never adequately explained seem rather cartoonish.

The novel is also skewed in that, while employing many aspects of life that I suspect will be familiar to British Asians, such as Jamal and Miriam's visit to their father in Pakistan, Jamal's relative affluence and the lack of any religious influence in his life are perhaps also unusual too.

Kureishi aspires to the grotesque heights of two other recent literary Londoners, Will Self and Martin Amis - in fact this seems to be a "London Fields" for the noughties in its kaleidoscopic but ultimately middle-class intellectual view of the city. He doesn't possess the turn of phrase of either, but the comparison is more apt in some of the outlandish supporting characters such as Wolf and Valentin, Jamal's student partners-in-crime and The Cross Keys' landlady, referred to only as The Harridan.

I should probably note here this isn't a book for those who don't like sex in their novels: there's a lot of it and, although rarely graphically described, much of it is remarkably casual. Jamal's life has been shaped as much by his urges as anything else.

It is hard to see what point, if any, Kureishi is trying to make with the lengthy (500+ pages) "Something to Tell You" which is unlike some of his other and frankly better work. This is the book of a novelist resting on his laurels. ( )
  Grammath | Jun 3, 2009 |
Hanif Kureishi’s latest novel Something to Tell You follows the first person musings of Jamal Karim, a psychoanalyst who is in the late stages of mid-life. Jamal has a secret, and seems to have reached a point where the secret has reached its nexus, and he either must face it, or collapse. The language of the book is confident, and often rich, reflecting the insular nature of the protagonist, and the setting is full of the vibrancy of the period in which this book moves: from Jamal’s past in the mid-1970s to today. There is a tremendous amount of detail, and a living record of the trends, books, theories, and gadgets that make up the modern world as we knew, and know it, and it’s reasonably fast-paced, despite the paralysis that takes over the narrator. But throughout the book is an unsettling superficiality which jars with the fact that the narrative itself gets forward motion from the thoughts and recollections of Jamal.As with Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, or John Irving’s Until I Find You, the novel is weighed down by an almost constant and in a way, irrelevant, plethora of namedropping. From the psychoanalysts who inspire Jamal: "Freud, Lacan, Laing", to book titles sprinkled at random through the text, authors ("Sade, Beardley, Hugh Hefner"), albums, performers ("Roy Orbison, Dusty Springfield"), and political rulers are all listed, with little reason other than to demonstrate popular culture. Worse though are the real life characters that keep popping into the story - Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Kate Moss, Tom Stoppard, Marianne Faithfull, or Eric Cantona, an ex-Manchester United football player, and a range of other "names" are all woven into the storyline, having lunch, therapy, or being introduced to people.It’s easy to imagine that Kureishi’s intent here was to provide a sense of the era, and the immediate colour that these characters conjure, but instead these dropped-in names turns the book into a compendium of the times and detracts from both the character development and the fictive dream. Each time it happens: “Tom Stoppard, an acquantainence of Henry’s, had suggested Henry might enjoy Mick.” (153) it drags the reader out of an already thin story and further dilutes the believability, since each of the mentioned celebrities are full scale complex characters in real life but cardboard cutouts in this novel.Jamal talks us through the story, and provides analyses of what he sees, but we never feel it, either from Jamal, or from the supporting characters, who, like Jamal, come across as superficial, unpleasant, and self-obsessed. There’s Miriam, Jamal’s wild single mother sister, who introduces his theatre director friend Henry to group sex.Then there’s Ajita, his long lost love, who has her own secret. Ajita breezes into his life at University and provides a catalyst for the murder that destroys Jamal’s life. But neither Ajita, nor the murder that she inspires, has enough force to drive the narrative. She never says anything of substance and instead is characterised by her designer clothing, her beauty, and the good sex Jamal had with her. Next there’s Henry, his colourful, larger-than-life friend who couples with his sister. Henry speaks in grand platitudes almost all the time, in a way that is as unbelievable as the sex life he develops, which is described in more detail than is required.Something to Tell You just ends, one feels, when Kureishi tires of writing, without any real denouement or sense of motion for the reader. Unfortunately, and despite the clear interest that Kureishi takes in conveying the decadence of London between the '70s and the '90s, most readers will tire of Jamal’s paralysis and voyeuristic recount long before that point. Which is a shame, because Kureishi certainly has a way with words and there are times when the narrative voice is actually powerful, such as in the opening page: “I’m into a place where language can’t go, or where it stops – the ‘indescribable’.Unfortunately, in this novel, little is shown and almost everything is described, in such superficial, tedious details, that the reader never develops empathy. There are a whole range of topics raised that could have been explored: sexual abuse; sexual freedom versus repression; migration and return; how we come to terms with the past, but all of these are unexplored in any depth, and certainly sit at the outside of Jamal’s naval gazing, which mostly focuses on his organ size, and why he can’t commit to anything.Read Something to Tell You as a kind of fictionalized memoir or social commentary of the cultural events of West London as it moves through the '70s to the present day, and it will be reasonably amusing, especially if it brings back any personal memories. But try to read it as a cohesive piece of fiction, and the endless first person self-references of the narrator simply aren’t enough to make this novel work.Listen to me read the first page of Something to Tell You at: http://www.seenreading.com/readers-reading-something-to-tell-you-hanif-kureishi/(that's my hand too!)
  maggieball | Feb 5, 2009 |
This is probably now one of my favorite Kureishi novels, and I've been following him for 20 years now.

"Something to Tell You" brings a cast of characters from very different backgrounds, and who straddle different walks of life at the same time.

There's the narrator, an immigrant's son turned Freudian psychoanalyst after a period hanging out with small time crooks in his college days. His sister, a tattooed matriarch of who can still throw hissy fits, yet concoct the occasional potion for a client or a backroom deal for stolen goods. And so on.

I like the way Kureishi matures, grow old really, yet continues to be as edgy as ever, if not more so. ( )
1 vote eyloni | Sep 7, 2008 |
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Secrets are my currency: I deal with them for a living.
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Prolific screenwriter, playwright and novelist Kureishi has a gift for smart, sparkling prose and expertly crafted characters, and it is on full display in his latest, the funny and heartbreaking story of Jamal Khan, a successful middle-aged London psychoanalyst dogged by a crushing secret and a long-burning torch for his first love. Jamal's son, Rafi, and ex-wife, Josephine, are still very much involved in Jamal's life, but nobody knows that Jamal is still profoundly in love with his high school girlfriend, Ajita, or that his connection to her is soiled by his complicity in a long-ago violent crime. As an analyst, he knows just how haunting the past can be (Secrets are my currency, he informs the reader), and he makes a convincing and often comedic case that madness is an ordinary, unsurprising part of contemporary life. The father-son relationship is especially brilliant, and Kureishi is adept as ever in balancing humor and his piercing insight into the human condition.
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Unwilling to admit that he has entered middle age, successful psychoanalyst and divorced father Jamal interacts with a string of outcast friends while struggling with memories about his first love, from whom he was separated by an unconfessed act of violence.… (more)

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