Collected Stories, By Hanif Kureishi

Please! Enough of the mid-life crisis

Most of the pieces included in this voluminous anthology of Hanif Kureishi's short fiction are relatively recent – his first collection of stories, Love in a Blue Time, was not published until 1997 – and, perhaps as a consequence, it displays very little variation in theme or tone.

The characteristic Kureishi protagonist is in his forties or fifties, usually a Londoner, involved in media or the arts, pursuing money and sex – but, ultimately, unable to muster much enthusiasm for either.

Indeed, this character recurs so often that the book comes to resemble a vast and somewhat dreary composite novel about the ennui of the middle-aged male: Kureishi evokes the restrictions of marriage ("D'accord, Baby"); the anguish of separation and divorce ("The Umbrella", "Midnight All Day"); and the dubious consolations of material success ("Maggie", "The Decline of the West").

Though there are wry insights and elegantly turned sentences to be found in each of these stories, one soon begins to tire of Kureishi's world-weariness, and to long for the iconoclast who gave us ebullient novels such as The Buddha of Suburbia (1990). When the author does depart from the mid-life crisis template, the results can be brilliant – witness "My Son the Fanatic", a pin-sharp evocation of the birth of fundamentalism in a British Muslim family, or the exquisite "Touched", about the relationship between a teenage boy and an elderly woman – and one wonders why he is not more adventurous, more often.