Monday, September 11, 2017

Le week-end

On Sunday afternoon, I made a quiche for dinner, three quarter of it with salmon and mushrooms and the remaining quarter with  left over bacon bits from previous night dinner. It took me more than two hours to make it from scratch. We were going to bring the quiche to my in-laws. Our dog ran out and it was drizzling. I asked my family to go ahead and I would stay home. Someone had to be home to let the dog back in. I  prefer to be home on Sunday evenings when I can read whatever I am reading and  brace myself for a new work week ahead. 

I was looking forward to reading another satire written by Hanif Kureishi as I had thoroughly enjoyed reading The Buddha of Suburbia click During the weekend, when I read The Last Word by the same author, I could not help thinking if I should have spent my weekend reading another fiction. While I appreciate the author's wit and  the theme of the novel, I am just not fond of the characters in the novel and by the end of the story, I still could not warm up to any of the characters. 

The first paragraph of the novel definitely had my attention.

'Harry Johnson gazed out of the window of the train at the English countryside and thought that not a moment passed when someone wasn’t telling a story. And, if his luck held for the rest of the day, Harry was about to be employed to tell the story of the man he was going to visit. Indeed, he had been chosen to tell the whole story of this important man, this significant artist. How, he wondered, with a shudder, did you begin to do that? Where would you start, and how would the story, which was still being lived, end? More importantly, was he, Harry, capable of such a task?'

In The Last Word, Harry Johnson, a young writer, is commissioned to write a biography of Mamoon Azam, an eminent cricket-loving, Indian-born British novelist, a cranky writer, now living in the Somerset countryside and married to a glamorous Italian. Mamoon’s book sales have dried up and his new wife has expensive tastes. Much comedy and drama ensue as Mamoon himself is mining a different vein of truth while Harry’s publisher seeks a biography that is explosive.  As Harry relentlessly pursues with his enquiry about the materials he has obtained, Mamoon tells Harry,

            " Harry, you know more about my many selves than I do. You're in the remembering business while I'm in the forgetting game, and forgetting is the loveliest of the psychic luxuries, a warm scented bath for the soul. I follow Chuang Tzu click, the patron saint of dementia, who advised, "Sit down and forget.

In his attempts to get Mamoon to verify some things told by Marion, Mamoon's mistress, Harry has angered him by upsetting his second wife, Liana. Mamoon and Harry have this verbal exchange:
“ Marion –I mean Liana –said you’re the sort to want to appear on television! You’re trying to make a career out of me, young man!”
“We’re strapped together, sir. We sink or swim as one beast.”
“Yours is a work of envy, and you are a third-rate semi-failure of a parasite who has got by on meretricious charm and fading looks. DId you ever read a biographer who could write as well as his subject?”
As if this wasn’t enough, Mamoon grabbed Harry by the lapels and tried to throw him against the car.
“ You’re fired, Harry. You’re never going to finish this work of tittle-tattle and when I come in from work tomorrow lunchtime I want to know this ridiculous misadventure is over! We’ve got another writer lined up to take over. He wears a tie!”

I read that The Last Word could be a roman-à-clef as the relationship between Mamoon and Harry seems to closely mirror that between V S Naipaul and Patrick French who wrote a biography of the Nobel laureate, The World Is What It is. The novel provides some insight about artists, writers and literary people while they are fictionalized. The conversations between Mamoon and Harry are combative, which one of them will have the last word? 

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