Book Group: Your views on the November book, 'My Ear at His Heart' by Hanif Kureishi

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The Independent Culture

The last book group discussion of the year, about Hanif Kureishi's acerbic but also strangely tender account of his discovery of his father's literary dreams and disappointments, was an opportunity to set a few things straight. "I'm not a man in touch with his feminine side," thundered LJ2026, "but a female." She (as I must now start calling her) was keen "to save any confusion". OliviaDW drew on the emphatic powers of punctuation to communicate her disgust at my portrayal of her in last month's round-up. "Vicar of Dibley??!!" she spluttered. Keep your hair on, ladies! You might be robots for all I know.

Our first contributor, thank goodness, chose to eschew gratuitous criticism of hard-working journalists in favour of the text. Glynhaggett (a male human, I think it's fair to assume) was something of a buddha of suburbia himself. "History is a blink away," he announced, "the present in another respect." Indeed. He found the book "a challenging and moving mix of (auto)biography, philosophy and cultural history", with Kureishi's own family "reflecting a changing world and by implication the ongoing search for identity".

LJ2026 agreed. "Kureishi's book reads as a series of reflections and musings on what influences shape a person and their work," she declared. She would not, however, "have described this as a memoir of his father". She thought that "to make it so by quoting extracts from his work" was "distracting when mixed (muddled) with real events and people of the time." A lot of the work, she thought, "related more to Kureishi's take on life rather than his father's". Call me stupid, LJ, or even the Vicar of Dibley, but I thought it was a memoir about Kureishi, and his relationship with his father. I am, however, but a scribe and will stop butting in.

She was also worried about the "sense of sadness in the book", "sadness for the father who couldn't achieve what he wanted" and "sadness even for himself" which comes through in the "need for hypnotherapy, psychoanalysis, alcohol and drugs". That's writers for you, LJ. You take them for a slap-up meal at the Ivy, and they still sit there, boring on about the miseries of human existence. Just ask Beckett, or Sartre or John Fowles. Give them the Booker and they'll grumble about the Nobel. Give them a big advance and they'll moan about the constraints of commercialism. Give them a drink and they'll take it, of course.

Jellyfeeble, a faithful contributor who I've taken to be female, but who could be an amoeba, was a little more upbeat. "I thought this book was brilliant," she gushed. There were, however, "some frustrating elements". "For instance," she added, "it would have been interesting to examine Kureishi's parents' relationship." But then, she concluded, "I suppose it was a book about the father-son relationship." Indeed, jellyfeeble. And not, you might have gone on to say, a book about a father.

The next contribution was from someone new to me. Shirley from Sussex has been a cheerful contributor to the book group, but this new Shirley sang a new song. "Kureishi believes a book to be a series of illusions," said shirleymh. "The puppeteer is the omnipresent author, the trickster. How much," she asks, "do we believe the author of a memoir? Could the manuscript of his father's unpublished novel... be a clever fabrication of the novelist?" Bloody hell, Shirl! The old Shirley was never so suspicious. She didn't use words like "patriarchal structure" either.

HaydenT was more concerned with practicalities. If the son was "living out the father's hopes and dreams" he could have said as much "in an interview, in the newspaper or on the radio". It didn't, he think, warrant "a whole book of its own".

OliviaDW disagreed. She thought the book was "striking in its honesty". She had "never missed a tube stop from reading a book, but was caught a couple of times while reading this one". Mo245 also found the book "fascinating". She (he?it?) was particularly touched by the father's brush with a smoky bacon crisp.

I hate to end on a negative note, but our final contribution was not, it's fair to say, a rave. "Well," said Ramblingsid, "I finished this book over a week ago but already the memory of it is beginning to fade away." Oh dear. What a shame! Particularly since this is our last book group for a while. It has, however, been lovely. Whatever your gender, whatever your gripes, you've kept me - and our readers - entertained. You've been faithful and you've turned up. Which is more than can be said for many writers.