Book extract: Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi

In Kureishi's new novel, a psychoanalyst looks back over his misspent youth
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The Independent Culture

It seemed to me that Tahir and I had both been talking a lot, working on a deep excavation. Miriam's understandable hatred of me as a child, her howling psychotic violence and her attempt to keep Mother away from me, for herself; the feeling I had of being alone, having been abandoned by both parents, Kafka's wounded beetle hiding under the bed.

But one day, after a long silence, Tahir said, "Do you have something to tell me?"

That was it! I believed he was implying that he knew I was leaving out the most important thing.

I had lost my capacity for happiness. The truth was I had murdered a man. Not in fantasy, as so many have, but in reality, and not long ago. In the end I could only measure Tahir Hussein in terms of that: whether I could trust him, or whether I would go to jail. I had told no one my secret, though often I was tempted, in one of the putrid pubs I went to most nights after work, to unburden myself to some soak who'd forget my story by morning. But I was smart enough to know it wouldn't help me with my loss.

The murdered man wouldn't let me go that easily. He clung to me, his fingernails in my flesh. I would wake up staring into the flickering fright of his doomed eyes. The past rode on my back like a devil, poking me, covering my eyes and ears for its sport as I puffed along, continuously reminding me of its existence. The world is as it is: it's our fantasies which terrify; they are the Thing.

My mind had begun to feel like an alien object within my skull: I wanted to pluck it out and throw it from a bridge. Books couldn't help me; nor could drugs or alcohol. I couldn't free my mind by working on my mind with my mind. I thought: light the touch paper and see. Will it blow up my life or ignite a depth charge in my frozen history? Could I rely on another person?

Finally, I was forced to do the right thing. I would throw myself on his mercy and take the consequences. One morning, after making up my mind, I told Tahir Hussein the truth. How would the analysis ever work if I repressed such a momentous event? So Tahir heard about the physical symptoms, the shaking and paranoia. He heard about the dreams of the dying eyes staring at me. He heard about Wolf, Valentin, Ajita. He heard about the death.

"What do you think?" I asked.

He said, simply, straight away, that some people deserved a whack on the head. I'd done the world a service, offing this pig who was bad beyond belief. It didn't stop me being a human being. It was only a "little" murder. He didn't seem to think I was going to make a habit of it, or go professional.

What a relief it was to have my secret safely hidden in the open! Tahir was worried about my temptation to confess and then be caught, my need to be punished, as well as the temptation to have everyone know me. To conceal is to reveal. Most murderers, he said, actively lead the police to the scene of the crime, so preoccupied are they with their victim. Raskolnikov not only returns to the crime scene, but wishes to rent a room in the "house of murder".

Tahir was the only person I told. I was desperate at the time, and now Tahir is dead, along with the secret which will never be uncovered, the secret which had been turning my soul septic, until I couldn't proceed alone. After Tahir, with my two other analysts I kept it to myself. It wouldn't reflect well on my career prospects.

I had said to Tahir, a year after I'd started seeing him, that his profession was one I fancied for myself. How come? I was aware, from an early age, when I met people on the street with Mother, that I wanted to hear their gossip. This was the route, I saw later, to the deepest things about them. Not necessarily to their secrets, though this was part of it, but to what had formed and haunted them within the organisation of the family.

Soon, however, the everyday conversations that characterised life in the suburbs were not enough. I wanted the serious stuff, the "depths". I'd come to Nietszche and Freud through Schopenhauer, whose two-volume The World as Will and Idea had so entertained me at university. There I copied out the following passage: "The sexual passion is the kernel of the will to live. Indeed, one might say man is concrete sexual desire; for his origin is an act of copulation and his wish of wishes is an act of copulation, and this tendency alone perpetuates and holds together his whole phenomenal existence. Sexual passion is the most perfect manifestation of the will to live."

I had seen myself as someone who was always about to become an artist, a writer, movie director, photographer or even (fall-back position), an academic. I had written books, songs, poetry, but they never seemed to be the meaning I sought. Not that you could make a living writing haikus. I had always been impressed by people who knew a lot. The one thing Mother and I did do together was watch quiz shows on TV. University Challenge was our favourite, and she'd say, "You should know all this. These people aren't as bright as you, and look at their clothes!"

None of the careers I'd considered excited me. Yet, unconsciously, something had been stirring within. Being with Dad in Pakistan, catastrophic and depressing as it had been in many ways, had instilled something like a public-school ethos in me. The sense of the family, of its history and achievement – my uncles had been journalists, sportsmen, army generals, doctors – along with the expectation of effortless success had, I was discovering now, been both exhilarating and intimidating. I wasn't only a "Paki". Suddenly, unlike Miriam, I had a name and a place, as well as the responsibility which went with it.

I began to see that not only was I intelligent, but that I had to find a way to use my mind. This was something to do with "family honour", an idea which formerly I'd have found absurd. It was Tahir who brought everything together for me. It took me a long time to bring it up with him; I was afraid he'd think I wanted to take his place.

But at last I did. "What do you think?" I said. "Could I do it?"

"You'll be as excellent as any of us," he said.

© Hanif Kureishi 2008

'Something to Tell You' (Faber, £16.99) is published on 6 March

About the author

Hanif Kureishi was born in London in 1954. He is the author of five previous novels, as well as story collections, plays and screenplays. Last year he was awarded the CBE for his services to literature