I am in a screening room somewhere in the suburbs of Paris, waiting for the film of my novel Intimacy to begin. A few months ago, I saw some of the rushes, but I have seen no cut material. Now the film is almost finished, with most of the scenes in their definitive order and a good deal of the music in place. The only missing scene is the final one, where the characters played by Kerry Fox and Mark Rylance meet for the last time. Although he and I worked closely together at times, and the film was shot in English, the script was written by his own writer, a woman, in French.
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While ''The Buddha of Suburbia'' was a touching, raunchy comedy of manners with a cheerfully flawed cast of family and friends, Kureishi's new novel, ''Intimacy,'' is a brooding, depressed tragedy about adult dissatisfaction. It's as if the son of the Buddha of Suburbia had grown up, but all the yoga and sex and club-hopping of his teens and 20's left him ill equipped to deal with real life. The novel takes the form of Jay's extended meditation on the disintegration of his relationship, his love for another woman and subjects like monogamy, parenthood, unhappiness and, of course, intimacy.
Jay is a screenwriter, described by one friend as someone who turns literature into pap. He lives in a comfortable house in London with his family, his books and his pot growing in the garden, but he is tormented. Susan, the mother of his children, has become a kind of enemy to him, a receptacle for his contempt. He describes her as deliberate and angry: ''Her range of feeling is narrow. She is the antithesis of his girlfriend, the tantalizing Nina, whom he met in a cafe and who wears ''cheap, light, hippie clothes'' and would ''go any distance for a rave.
Jay seeks counsel from two friends who represent opposite philosophies. The deck seems stacked from the start: one is named Victor, the other Asif. Victor, divorced, lives in a shabby apartment and has a thriving social life. Asif adores his wife and children. Jay paints a sad picture of Victor's existence, but we know from the beginning that Jay will leave Susan and sleep on a cot at Victor's place.
Asif, on the other hand, ''has integrity and principle,'' but the serenity of his life makes Jay uncomfortable: ''Why do people who are good at families have to be smug and assume it is the only way to live, as if everybody else is inadequate? Why can't they be blamed for being bad at promiscuity?
Clearly, Jay has a sense of humor about his predicament, and his ruminations are not without charm. Kureishi is a fluent, socially observant writer whose sentences move with intelligence and wit. However, Jay is so utterly lacking in self-awareness that he seems a parody of a shallow, narcissistic man. For all his obsessive thinking, he understands very little. Jay admits this, saying, ''To contemplate the debris with some understanding -- that is an enviable state of mind.
He even recognizes that his miserable relationship with his own mother, ''a lump of living death,'' has something to do with what's going on, but he seems woefully unable to connect the dots. Then he replies, ''I don't want to think of that.
What is the reader supposed to make of Jay? It would be generous to view this book as a devastating portrait of a man without insight, but there is little in the novel's language and tone to support this interpretation. Instead, Kureishi seems to be earnestly posing the same questions that Jay asks, such as: ''We must treat other people as if they were real.
But are they? But in the context of ''Intimacy'' it feels like pseudo-philosophizing or a cheap joke. Similarly, Jay's professed openness falls short of real revelation. When he claims, ''I want an absolute honesty that doesn't merely involve saying how awful one is,'' the reader is tempted to agree. Although the jacket copy hails this novel as ''searingly honest,'' Jay's powers of reflection are limited. Rather than posing hard questions about intimacy, the book raises a less profound question: When does so-called searing honesty become mind-numbing self-absorption?
And the book -- unintentionally, it appears -- provides an answer: when the honesty is without understanding. In the end, like Jay taunting Susan, ''Intimacy'' almost seems to want to provoke the reader with its unlikable tone. But as with Jay, there's something about the novel that resists criticism. While at first it seems constructed around the question of whether Jay will move out, eventually it just appears to be saying ''Aren't I bad for going?
As a result, ''Intimacy'' has little room for the idea that whether Jay leaves is less important than whether he has anything interesting to say about his departure. No, it isn't. And in Jay's case, it may be the best. Return to the Books Home Page. New York: Scribner. Tomorrow morning, when the woman I have lived with for six years has gone to work on her bicycle, and our children have been taken to the park with their ball, I will pack some things into a suitcase, slip out of my house hoping that no one will see me, and take the tube to Victor's place.
This, then, could be our last evening as an innocent, complete, ideal family; my last night with a woman I have known for ten years, a woman I know almost everything about, and want no more of. Soon we will be like strangers. No, we can never be that. Hurting someone is an act of reluctant intimacy.
“Intimacy” by Hanif Kureishi
While ''The Buddha of Suburbia'' was a touching, raunchy comedy of manners with a cheerfully flawed cast of family and friends, Kureishi's new novel, ''Intimacy,'' is a brooding, depressed tragedy about adult dissatisfaction. It's as if the son of the Buddha of Suburbia had grown up, but all the yoga and sex and club-hopping of his teens and 20's left him ill equipped to deal with real life. The novel takes the form of Jay's extended meditation on the disintegration of his relationship, his love for another woman and subjects like monogamy, parenthood, unhappiness and, of course, intimacy. Jay is a screenwriter, described by one friend as someone who turns literature into pap. He lives in a comfortable house in London with his family, his books and his pot growing in the garden, but he is tormented. Susan, the mother of his children, has become a kind of enemy to him, a receptacle for his contempt.
Our beautiful project
The basic plot is very simple. A man, Jay, is leaving his long-time partner, Susan, and their two young sons. The book is an extended inner monologue by Jay covering the last night before he leaves. For me, the character was too extreme.
Charity ends at home
It is the unnamed narrator's last night with his wife and two children, whom he intends to leave the next day, although they don't know it. His wife, Susan, comes home from work while he is watching his sons, ages five and three, taking a bath. He is having an affair with Nina — "Something about her changed everything. Susan's range of feeling is narrow; she would consider it shameful to give way to her moods. They quibble, and the narrator is about to say, "Susan, can't you see that, of all the nights we have spent together, this is the last one — the last one of all? She says it will be an opportunity to discuss "things.
L et's believe that this book is a work of fiction. Immediately, we won't have to worry about the effect Hanif Kureishi's rancorous tale of a writer who leaves his partner and two smallchildren might have on the family he has recently left. We won't confuse Kureishi with his narrator, the vain, priapic Jay, busily packing the tools of his trade - 'a soft pencil and a hard dick' - for a future of sex and literary self-justification. Above all, we won't mind how badly Jay writes because his is only the slapdash prose of a fictional character. Jay is in a hurry to leave because he wants nothing to tip the moral balance against his decision.