Love + Hate: Stories and Essays, by Hanif Kureishi - book review: From creepy to droll, enter the kingdom of the bizarre

Faber & Faber, £14.99

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The Independent Culture

Hanif Kureishi is a writer of his times in form as well as theme. Although defining works do waymark his career – from My Beautiful Laundrette to Intimacy and Something to Tell You – they take their place within a continuum of cross-genre experiment and exploration. He moves unfussily between story, essay, screenplay, novel and reportage. “Art, like the best conversation, re-frames conflicts,” runs a signature sentence from this book, “representing them in ways which enable fresh thought, generating more plausible stories”.

It would be easy enough to scold this collection as a ragbag of recent pieces, a disjointed gathering of stories, homilies and critical essays with one longer memoir, “A Theft: My Con Man”, which Faber has issued as a miniature hardback. Certainly, Love + Hate is uneven, occasionally flaccid. When Professor Kureishi hauls on his creative-writing gown, the didact’s robe never quite fits. It shrinks his sense of mischief, and his wit. Stories here range from the genuinely creepy airborne dystopia “Flight 423” to droll and stagey episodes of later life (“The Woman who Fainted”) that nod towards his theatrical hinterland.

Yet you cannot lay a charge of incoherence at Kureishi’s door. The title captures his primary focus, in fiction or essay: the interdependence of love and hate; the kinship of desire and destruction; the laws of that bizarre kingdom of paradox and perversity in which we all live. For Kureishi, a Freudian but a Nietzschean as well, we love our tormentors and torment our lovers. All of us whirl blindly round in what the narrator of one story – typically, about the ending of a marriage with a grudge-match race – calls “the S&M clinch, the waltz of death”.

This keynote of ambivalence rings out in several passages that dwell on Kureishi’s relationship with his sons. As his boys outsmart, outrun and outlive the “old fellow” who sired them, an endless tune replays across the generations. He writes about one child’s “transition to individuality” that “My fading, and his rising, make life possible”. As often, Kureishi also returns to his own thwarted father: migrant, dreamer, writer, and a man who fashioned his own enclave of suburban idealism at a time when racism blighted so many lives. Few people write so lucidly, and candidly, about being both a father and a son. Aptly, the best literary essay here dissects Franz Kafka’s “eternal arm-wrestle” with his loved and loathed father Hermann.

You never go to Kureishi for sentimental uplift about any human tie. In ‘‘A Theft’’, about the fraudster who swindled the author out of his savings, Kureishi even likens his family’s staunch support for their disappointed father to “a protection racket or cult”. Their love shielded Dad from reality. The same dynamics of faith, hope and credulity roll out again in his tale of the plausible, deluded rogue accountant – “a seducer who had seduced himself” – who charmed and then robbed Kureishi and his friends.

What matters here is not the mechanics of the fraud but its emotional aftermath. Kureishi becomes the abandoned victim who talks every day to his persecutor, yearns for his reform, and finds that, “by some mysterious alchemy”, his hate “was turning to love”. Writing the memoir helps to break this cycle of abject dependency. If Kureishi’s deceiver is also a con-artist – “a mad novelist, and a far-out magic realist at that” –his stories can go nowhere, stuck in an endless loop of greed and need. Only a true artist can lift that spell of mutual fantasy, firing up “the engine of creativity” to unravel the binding knot of love and hate.