A Theft: My Con Man by Hanif Kureishi, book review: Morality tale suffers for not being fiction


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The Independent Culture

Hanif Kureishi was cheated out of £120,000 of life savings in 2012 by a partner at an accountancy firm. The alleged investment fraud was announced in news reports last year to add to those stories of famous folk – the John Malkoviches and other Ponzi Scheme victims – duped out of what they have.

Celebrities have usually kept quiet afterwards, so Kureishi's story of his swindling by the man who is here called Jeff Chandler is an unlikely –perhaps brave – subject for a book.

If it can be called a book, at 44 pages (and selling at its own daylight robbery price of £4.99), A Theft is a dissection of Kureishi's thought processes that accompany the stages of a confidence trick in which he is promised an investment on his money that never comes; the initial seduction followed by denial, hate, perhaps even masochistic satisfaction. It is a confession of sorts that lays out the chronology of feelings, and Kureishi's own sense of having taken part in his deception.

Early on, he quotes Freud and Nietzsche but this tendency melts away, as if his real interest lies not in their ideas but in recording his ordeal. Then again, there are only so many questions on the nature of greed and deception that can be addressed in 44 pages. That is not to dismiss the power of terse writing: George Orwell's essays, recently re-published as pamphlets as slim as this one, are good examples of that.

This isn't as punchy, or as powerful. As a morality tale borne out of our collective, late-capitalist greed, which it hints at being, it is too contrived if this man's actions stand representative for today's money-men. As a rumination on the nature of the swindle, it is at its most satisfying – his swindler was not the charismatic evildoer that we find so compelling, which is Kureishi's point, that "he is nothing of interest" and yet still manages to wreak devastation.

One wonders if this isn't a lost opportunity for Kureishi to have used as a starting point for fiction. As he reflects on the artist's relationship with reality – "If I stole something back from this devil and homunculus, I could transform and remake him, pinning him to the page" – the question of why he didn't write about Jeff as fiction – these pages his working notes – arises, and fades, in disappointment.