The wisdom of The Last Word by Hanif Kureishi is not a single strand of thought. Rather, it tries to unflinchingly recognise the past and the present as an organic continuation through the politics of biography, the process of shared introspection and a reminiscence of the good old days. This is Kureishi’s first novel in six years and is an extended musing on an artist’s undoing — dependencies, demons and all.
Although it is not a triumph, it contains inspired moments of black humour and some nod-worthy aphorisms that are Kureishi’s trademark. It loses out completely on basic writing devices, such as characters that are dull or annoyingly incongruous and dialogues that make the reader cringe. Instead of a cohesive background, the novel focuses on the dark side of lovemaking addiction, glorified in the artist’s livery.
The Last Word is an audacious reimagining of the relationship between the controversial author VS Naipaul and his biographer Patrick French. But given that Kureishi denies this, despite the overwhelmingly numerous parallels between his protagonist Mamoon Azam and Naipul, it means that the only explanation for this disappointment of a novel is uninspired laziness.
The eager beaver biographer, Harry, arrives in rural Somerset, to live with his subject Mamoon and his flighty Italian wife, Liana, in their country mansion. Liana lives the legacy of Sophia Tolstoy but aspires to be the American writer Gertrude Stein in glamorous London. Since her husband’s royalties cannot achieve that, she decides to turn Mamoon into a brand through his biography. There is a hilarious exchange in the book in which Mamoon asks Liana if she means a brand like Heinz ketchup, and she replies with brand Roald Dahl.