The Week in Arts: Here's a novel way of creating a family feud

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The Independent Online

One of my favourite writers is Kureishi. Not Hanif. I can take or leave him. But I do like his sister, Yasmin Kureishi. She has never had a book published, as far as I know. But there are set occasions when she bursts into print: namely when her brother talks or writes about his family. And then Yasmin can be relied upon for a polemic that's incisive, withering and devastating.

One of my favourite writers is Kureishi. Not Hanif. I can take or leave him. But I do like his sister, Yasmin Kureishi. She has never had a book published, as far as I know. But there are set occasions when she bursts into print: namely when her brother talks or writes about his family. And then Yasmin can be relied upon for a polemic that's incisive, withering and devastating.

The first time was six years ago when Hanif painted a picture of their father in a newspaper interview, which Yasmin considered to be unfair and unfaithful. She publicly warned her brother that she would not stand by silently while the memory of their late father was insulted, a memory she held "very dear" in her heart. She has also made it clear that she loathed the "disparaging" portrait of the family in Hanif Kureishi's best-known work, The Buddha of Suburbia.

Her latest polemic came this week to mark the publication of Hanif's latest, My Ear at His Heart, a semi-fictionalised memoir of his (and her) late father. Yasmin wrote in one newspaper: "Hanif's book presents my father as a dismal failure, a pathetic, sickly man who sat around in his pyjamas all day... My memory of my dad was of a loving family man with oodles of warmth, charm, wit and energy, despite being often ill... In most instances where family characters are depicted in Hanif's work, they tend to appear rather pathetic and ridiculous, stripped of their dignity. How much should one have to tolerate in the name of 'art'?"

That is, or course, a fascinating cultural question. For here is much more than a family row. Yasmin's anguish reminds us that in biography, fiction, semi-fictionalised memoirs, films and plays, we tend automatically to believe the author's portrait of a relative, be the author Hanif Kureishi, Eugene O'Neill or whoever. But other family members can have very different memories and family relationships. The one is not necessarily wrong, nor the other necessarily right. There are different "truths" in individual memories, in which the writer's own character and personal failings can play their part.

It is useful to be reminded of this and of the anguish that can be caused in a family by a memoir. This personal and cultural debate is something the Kureishi siblings could have. However, Yasmin reveals that, after her first newspaper article six years ago, Hanif stopped talking to her.

That is depressing. Liberal novelists preach tolerance, debate and the power of language to explore and solve misunderstandings. So why stop talking to your sister when she challenges your version of events?

Off the sofa and on to the operatic stage

As most singers, dancers and actors seem to find their vocation and an agent shortly after leaving the womb, it's refreshing to find that one of the world's leading tenors had decided to become an opera singer only in his 30s. Indeed, until the age of 30 he had never even heard an opera.

Marcelo Alvarez, right, the Argentinian tenor who stars in Massenet's Werther later this month at the Royal Opera House, was working in the family furniture business in Cordoba when he saw La Traviata at the age of 30, was hooked, gave a concert for some friends and was spotted by a local conductor.

It's a heartwarming story. Yet my heart goes out not to Alvarez, but to his parents. They must have thought, as they celebrated his 30th birthday, that they didn't have to worry any more about the old furniture business. It was in safe hands. How they must have chuckled when Marcelo stopped pricing up that three-piece suite and muttered that he quite fancied singing at Covent Garden one day.

¿ Nicholas Hytner's first year in charge at the National Theatre has been so successful that the NT chairman Sir Christopher Hogg paid glowing tribute this week, saying: "I don't think that there's anything to come anywhere near it in the National's history."

With the theatre 91 per cent full, Hytner's achievement is indeed remarkable. But nothing to come anywhere near it? Memories are short. Under the National's founding director Laurence Olivier, its then home, the Old Vic, was not just full to bursting, but also Waterloo Road outside was sometimes lined with sleeping bags, so keen were theatregoers to book tickets the next morning. Sir Christopher Hogg is right to praise Nicholas Hytner. But he shouldn't rewrite history.

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