Into the blue
LOVE IN A BLUE TIME by Hanif Kureishi Faber, .f8.99, pp. 212 As any closet romantic will tell you, falling out of love can be an even grander experience than falling into it, as well as, of course, a more permanent one. The revela- tions of disenchantment and ways of surviv- ing it form the basis of Hanif Kureishi's latest outing — a collection of bawdy and often indulgent short stories. The opening tale, In the Blue', sets the tone with the betrayals of a 22-year-old, by now perfunc- tory, friendship between Roy and Jimmy. Once soul-mates in their adolescence, they have drifted diametrically under Thatcherism, selling out and dropping out, respectively. From the treacheries of friendship, the book goes on to cover a wide spectrum of infidelity and love-loss, with characters incapable of communing and equally ill-disposed to living alone.
Kureishi avoids melodrama, by lodging the blame for each break-up at personal despondency, rather than the caprice of the fairer sex. 'Self-hate stories' would be a more appropriate label for them than 'love stories', being awash with sub-aspirant careerists — from a TV advert director dreaming of his first feature, to a rootless Asian father trying to write novels in a language that eludes him. These are men sliding off the back-end of youth, nervously entering their forties with stalled ambitions and no alternative sources of pride. As Kureishi puts it, the gears of their lives have become disengaged from the mechanisms that drove them forward.
References are made, overtly and stylisti- cally, to Chekhov, Proust and Fellini, among others, but they only really work when highlighting the gulf between his characters' ambitions and their realities: Roy thought often of how a man might feel had he made, for instance, La Doke Vita, not to speak of 8 //2. What insulating spirit this would give him, during breakfast, or waiting to see his doctor about a worrying complaint!
Kureishi's fascination with professional failure as a cause of isolation extends to the intrinsic shortcomings of his own craft. In 'With Your Tongue Down My Throat', a predatory writer steals the narrative voice of a half-Asian girl to explore her fluid sense of identity, before finally admitting the theft. The richly inventive teenage repertoire — the quality of the ventrilo- quism — only goes to accentuate the ultimate failure of his writing, the solipsism of the single voice. In 'Nightlight', language itself is distrusted and love can only be rediscovered silently, anonymously and in the dark. 'Words come out bent,' the born- again lover soliloquises, 'but who can bend a kiss?'
Of course there's still plenty here for the Kureishi devotee; several stories reprise themes of racial pessimism and genera- tional conflict, and his descriptions of the drug high-life are as compelling and jocular as ever. 'The Tale of a Turd', for example, compresses an addict's life-story and love- story into the existential moment of trying to flush an unsinkable stool in his in-law's bathroom. A drug-laced cocktail of para- noia and hallucination forces him to take desperate measures, introducing readers to the concept of the 'turd-bird'.
After the woeful laxity of The Black Album, it is a relief to see Kureishi address- ing less fashionable themes, attempting to chronicle his age rather than the age. But he still occasionally feels compelled to contemporise 'the ebb of love', and when- ever he associates the emotional hangover of middle-age with the economic hangover of the Nineties, Zeitgeist caricatures abound.