Book Review: The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi

Reviewed by Aija Oksman

Hanif Kureishi has been a favourite of mine for many years; Buddha of Suburbia, Gabriel’s Gift, Midnight All Day as well as his screenplay, My Beautiful Laundrette, are all works that I still re-read regularly. Therefore, when I started The Nothing, I was excited and then shocked, then a little revolted, and all the while curious.

The Nothing is a voyeuristic experience from the get-go, making the reader feel sleazy, dirty, helpless and a little angry all at once, yet guiltily enjoying every moment—a little like watching a reality show unfold. The disgust and the curiosity of the vengeful and bitterly isolated disabled film director’s inner monologue is un-put-downable, and yet I wished I could do just that after each page. The novel is reminiscent to some of Roman Polanski’s cinematic oeuvre, you feel like you’ve stumbled into an experience, which as a bystander you cannot stop, so you might as well keep watching.

Kureishi masterfully explores the process of corrosion of ageing, where your body betrays you and your status mean squat all to anyone, except when your eccentricities are assented to out of pity for what you used to be. None of his previous novels have used such crass and provoking language riddled with decaying body parts, bodily fluids, swearing and all around a break from the style and language Kureishi readers might have learned to expect. However, there are some characteristics I have learned to expect from Kureishi that were present in The Nothing too, for example, his East-meets-West cultural heritage elements and the commentary directed to social classes, especially in and about London. I enjoyed being made a voyeur and thereby uncomfortably disgusted—with myself, with Kureishi, with the director, and with the scatter of others that do little to nothing to make the ageing man’s final moments a respectful time of rest. I would highly recommend it—but with a PG warning.

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