Hanif Kureishi: The Buddha of Suburbia

I liked this novel. It’s joyous and fun. Apparently it’s Kureishi’s first, but as I haven’t read anything else by him I can’t draw any comparisons or comment on this. I spoke to someone I work with about this book and she said it was one of the first books she read after she’d moved to London from the US. She said it was a total education in bedsits, squats and the class system. Indeed that’s pretty much the bulk of the subject matter. But there’s also immigrant population; specifically Indians in London and all the race and religion and culture clash that goes along with it – think Brick Lane, in the suburbs, narrated by a horny little boy in flares… with more laughs and less hand-wringing*. It’s a refreshing telling of the London Indian immigrant story because of the self-absorbtion of the narrator and therefore the emotional distance he keeps from everything. There’s a goodly amount of sex and sexuality; theatre and 80s fashion. All in all, this makes for a pretty heady mixture and a good read, with lots of inward chuckles along the way.

In a strange way I don’t feel there’s a lot I can say about this book without just going over the plot. All the fun is in the telling of the story, so it feels a bit redundant to attempt a half-arsed re-telling. Potentially inflammatory subjects such as race, tradition and religion that form the heart of the novel are dealt with with humour and grace that it would be impossible to convey here. There are lesbian feminists, arty liberals, Muslim traditionalists, suburban conservatives, Buddhists of convenience, and fanatic anarchists… but none of them come off as badly as one might expect, indeed everyone is dealt with on equal terms and seen as essentially human, if faintly ridiculous. Political but in no way polemic. Nicely written, with moments of startling insight that betray Kureishi as that wonderful thing; a comic writer with documentary perception and a philosophical sensibility.

*This isn’t to say that I don’t think these stories aren’t worth telling – obviously they are – I just didn’t particularly enjoy Brick Lane; I found it a bit predictable, which doesn’t mean that it isn’t a valuable or accurate picture, it’s just a question of taste.

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