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The Last Word (English Edition) par [Kureishi, Hanif]
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The Last Word


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 important, was he, Harry, capable of such a task?

Peaceful England, untouched by war, revolution, famine, ethnic or religious disturbance. Yet, if the newspapers were correct, Britain was an overcrowded little island, teeming with busy immigrants, many clinging to the edges of the country, as on a small boat about to capsize. Not only that, thousands of asylum seekers and refugees, desperate to escape disturbance in the rest of the chaotic world, were attempting to cross the border. Some were packed in lorries, or hung from the undercarriages of trains; many were tiptoeing across the English Channel on tightropes slung across the sea, while others were fired from cannons based in Boulogne. Ghosts had it easy. Meanwhile, apparently, since the financial crash, everyone on board the country was so close together and claustrophobic they were beginning to turn on one another like trapped animals. With the coming scarcity—few jobs, reduced pensions, and meager social security—people’s lives would deteriorate. The postwar safety Harry and his family had grown up in was gone. Yet, to Harry now, it seemed as if the government was deliberately injecting a strong shot of anxiety into the body politic, because all he could see was a green and pleasant England: healthy cattle, neat fields, trimmed trees, bubbling streams, and the shining, early spring sky above. It didn’t even look as though you could get a curry for miles.

There was a whoosh, and beer spattered his face. He turned his head. Rob Deveraux, sitting opposite Harry and cracking open another tin, was a respected and innovative publisher. He had approached Harry with the idea of commissioning him to write a biography of the distinguished writer, Indian-born Mamoon Azam, a novelist, essayist, and playwright Harry had admired since he was a teenage book fiend, a nerdy connoisseur of sentences, a kid for whom writers were gods, heroes, rock stars. Harry was immediately responsive and excited. After years of study and obedience, things were turning good for him, as his teachers had predicted if he concentrated his thoughts and zipped his fly and lip. This was his break; he could have wept with relief and excitement.

He deserved it, he reckoned. A couple of years before, in his late twenties, Harry had published a well-received biography of Nehru containing much new material, and although the familiar story had now, in the modern manner, to be lightly spiced with interracial copulation, buggery, alcoholism, and anorexia, the work was considered, on the whole, to be illuminating. Even the Indians liked it. For Harry it had been “homework.”

He was reviewing books and teaching now, while looking for a new project to invest his creative passion, energy, and commitment in; something, he hoped, that would make his name, launching him into the public world and a rosy future.

Today, on a bright Sunday morning, Harry and Rob were on the train to Taunton to visit Mamoon at the house where the legendary writer had lived for most of his adult life, sharing it now with his second wife, Liana Luccioni, a spirited Italian woman in her early fifties. The world from the window—his England—would have kept Harry calm and easy, except that Rob, like a boxing coach, insisted on coaxing and goading his boy in preparation for the fight ahead.

Rob was explaining that it was both an advantage and a nuisance writing about someone who was alive. The subject himself could help you, he said, as Harry dabbed beer from his face with his handkerchief. The past might take on new tones as the subject looked back—and it was Harry’s job to inspire Mamoon to look back. Rob had no doubt that Mamoon would help Harry, since Mamoon had finally recognized that the book was becoming essential. Liana was proving to be extravagant, if not more expensive and, indeed, explosive than any woman Mamoon had experienced before. Rob had said it was as if Gandhi had married Shirley Bassey and they’d gone to live in Ambridge.

Mamoon had been much respected by the literary world, as well as by the right-wing newspapers. He was, at last, a writer from the Indian subcontinent they could like, someone who thought domination, particularly by the educated, informed, and intelligent—people, oddly, who resembled himself—was preferable to universal stupidity, or even democracy.

But, being too cerebral, unyielding and harrowing to be widely read, Mamoon was becoming financially undone; despite the praise and the prizes, he was in fiscal turnaround. Currently he was in the process of selling his archive to an American university. Before it also became necessary for him to remortgage his house, his wife and his agent had agreed that the best way to perk up his quiet career—Mamoon had become the sort of writer of whom people asked “Is he still alive, do you know?”—was for a “controversial” new biography to be published with, on the cover, the subject as an irresistibly handsome and dangerous young man. The sharp, memorable image would be as important as the words: think Kafka, Greene, Beckett, writers whose taciturnity never stood in the way of a hot, moody photo. This, then, was the book Harry would write. The biography would be an “event,” a “big bang,” accompanied, of course, by a television documentary, interviews, a reading tour, and the reissuing of Mamoon’s books in forty languages.

On the other hand, continued Rob, the fact that the author was alive could inhibit a biographer. Rob had met the man about a dozen times; and he said that Mamoon, to his credit, was more Norman Mailer than E. M. Forster. Inhibition, Rob reckoned, was something Harry needed none of here. It wouldn’t suit the subject.

On his side, Harry considered Rob to be more of a Norman Mailer than Mamoon, who had seemed restrained and dignified on the one occasion Harry had met him. Rob was a disheveled unshaven brilliant maverick, who usually smelled of alcohol. Today he had turned up actually drunk and began drinking beer the moment they got on the train—while eating crisps continuously, bits of which adhered to his face and clothes like flakes of dandruff. Rob considered writing a form of extreme combat, and humanity’s “saving grace.” For him, the writer should be the very devil, a disturber of dreams and wrecker of fatuous utopias, the bringer-in of reality, and rival of God in his wish to make worlds.

Now Harry nodded gravely across the table at Rob, as he always did; he didn’t want to betray any alarm.

If Harry thought of himself as a cautious if not conservative person, Rob appeared to encourage his authors toward pugnacity, dissipation, and “authenticity” for fear, some thought, that the act and art of writing, or even editing, might appear “artistic,” feminine, nancy, or, possibly, “gay.” Never mind Mamoon, Harry had heard numerous tales of Rob’s “sociopathic” tendencies. He didn’t go into the office until five in the afternoon, though he would stay there all night, editing, phoning, and working, perhaps popping into Soho. He had married, not long ago, but appeared to have forgotten that wedlock was a continuous state rather than a one-off event. He slept in different places, often in some discomfort and with a book over his face, while appearing to inhabit a time zone that collapsed and expanded according to need rather than the clock, which he considered to be fascist. If he became bored by someone, he would turn away, or even slap them. He would cut his writers’ work arbitrarily, or change the title, without informing them.

Not that Harry had minded about the tales of madness, being aware that it is only the insane who achieve anything significant. Besides, Rob’s publishing outfit had won numerous big prizes, and Rob was powerful, persuasive, and potent. Having lunched and chatted with him at parties for five years, Harry couldn’t say, until today, that he’d witnessed much debauchery himself. Rob had the hippest list in London, and was as much an artist as an innovative movie or record producer. He made things happen and took risks; he was said to be “lateral.” Harry had never dreamt that Rob would invite him to work with him. Not only that, Rob would pay Harry a substantial advance for this book. If Harry borrowed money from his father, he should be able to afford the deposit on a small house he wanted to buy with Alice, his fiancée, whom he’d been seeing for three years, and who had moved into his bachelor flat. They had talked about having children, though Harry thought they should be more settled before committing to this.

It had occurred to Harry, in the last year, at least, as he matured, that he needed to be well off. It wasn’t his first priority, which was to be serious, but he was beginning to see that his list of life achievements might have to include a hefty amount of money in the bank, a token of his status, ability, and privilege. Rob had volunteered to help with this, aiding Harry on his journey. It was about time. “I am your Mephistopheles, and I pronounce you now officially rock ’n’ roll,” Rob had said. “The day will come, of course, when you will have to thank me for this. And thank me hard. Perhaps you might gratefully kiss me on the lips, or give me your tongue.”

As the train drew them closer to the meeting, Rob’s instruction was that Harry should write “as mad and wild” a book as he could. This would be Harry’s breakthrough. He should practice his autograph; he would be feted at literary festivals in South America, India, and Italy, appear on television, and give well-paid talks and lectures on the nature of truth and the biographer’s servitude to it. It would be his ticket to ride. If you wrote one successful book, you could live in its light for ten years.

“Let’s not get carried away. It’ll be a fire-walk.” Rob gulped at his beer. “The old man will exasperate you with his stubbornness and taunting. As for his wife, you know she can be sweet and amusing. But you might have to sleep with her, otherwise she could smoke you down like a cigarette.”

“What? Why?”

“In Rome, where she lived, and where she grabbed Mamoon, she was known as a man-eater who never passed on a meal. And you are a hog with a keen snout, when it comes to sniffing out the truffle of a woman.”

“Rob, please—”

The editor went on, “Listen up: that clever old sly fox Mamoon might seem dull and dead to you, and indeed to everyone, including his own family.” He leaned forward and whispered, “He comes on like someone who has never knowingly given pleasure to a woman, someone who has never loved anyone more than himself. He has stolen a lot of enjoyment. He has been a dirty bastard, an adulterer, liar, thug, and, possibly, a murderer.”

“How common is this knowledge?”

“You will make it known. Extreme biography: that is your job.”

“I see.”

“Marion, his ex-mistress, a Baconian torso on a plank, is bitter as cancer and spitting gobbets of hate to this day. She lives in America and not only will she see you, she’ll fly at you like a radioactive bat. I’ve organized your visit—some people accuse me of being a perfectionist. There is also the fact he drove his first wife, Peggy, over the edge. I’m sure he wrapped oranges in a towel and beat her blacker and bluer than a decayed Stilton.”

“He did?”

“Investigate. I’ve insisted you have access to her diaries.”

“He agreed?”

“Harry, the Great Literary Satan is weak and woozy now like a lion hit with a monster tranquilizer. It’s his time to be taken. And it’s in his interest to cooperate. When he reads the book and learns what a bastard he’s been, it’ll be too late. You will have found out stuff that Mamoon doesn’t even know about himself. He’ll be dead meat on the skewer of your insight. That’s where the public like their artists—exposed, trousers down, arse up, doing a long stretch among serial killers, and shitting in front of strangers. That’ll teach ’em to think their talent makes them better than mediocre no-brain tax-paying wage slaves like us.”

According to Rob, the publishers would sell the “juicy” parts of the book to the Sunday newspapers; it would be reviewed internationally, and there could be excellent sales in numerous languages. And again, when Mamoon died—“I hope,” said Rob, not someone to miss an opportunity, “in about five years’ time”—the book would sell once more, with a new chapter ripping through the author’s final flirtations, last illness, death, obituaries, and the unacknowledged children and, of course, mistresses who would flock to the funeral, and then to the newspapers, thrashing at their breasts, pulling out their hair, and preparing their memoirs as they fought amongst themselves.

The train rolled through graveyard towns, and Harry found his body rioting at the thought of meeting Mamoon today; indeed, he felt afraid of the whole project, particularly since, as Rob drank more, he kept repeating that this would be Harry’s “break.” Rob “believed” in Harry but had gone on to insist Harry was far from fulfilling his potential, a potential which he, Rob, had recognized against considerable opposition. With Rob a kiss was usually followed by a clout.

“I have been priming Mamoon for you, man,” Rob added, as the train approached the station.

“Priming him how?”

“He’s been told you know your stuff, and stay up for nights reading the densest material, Hegel, Derrida, Musil, Milton . . . er . . . ”

“You’ve said I understand Hegel?”

“You’re not an easy sell. I was starting from zero with you.”

“Suppose he asks me about Hegel’s dialectic?”

“You’ll have to give him an overview.”

“What about my first book? You must have sent it to him.”

“I had to, finally. But it had its longueurs, even your mother would agree. The old man struggled to get through the introduction and had to lie down for a week with Suetonius to clean his palate. So reach the new level, man, or you’ll be so fucked you’ll have to get work as an academic. Or even worse—”

“Worse? What could be worse than a former polytechnic?” Rob paused and glanced out of the window before delivering the news. “You’d have to teach creative writing.”

“Please, no. I’m not qualified.”

“Even better. Imagine being lost forever in a dark forest of uncompleted first novels that require your total attention.” He gathered his rags and got up. “I see we’ve arrived at the wasteland! Look outside—look at this bog, peopled by tattooed dolts, gargoyles, and turnip heads sniffing glue. The horror, the horror! Are you ready for the rest of your life to begin?”

Revue de presse

"Wickedly brilliant. Hanif Kureshi's latest lights up the nighttime sky like a literary Tet Offensive." (Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story)

The Last Word is a hoot, a farcical take on the lit'ry life as dreamed up by Monty Python. Kureishi's antic glee spares no one, not author, not biographer, not publisher, nor various hangers-on…It's a close cousin to Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys and David Lodge's Small World.” (Newsday)

“Acclaimed screenwriter and novelist, Kureishi offers a sexy and intellectually stimulating traditional novel with modern components. It will remind some of the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro and may suggest to others an earlier generation of writers, including D. H. Lawrence or Ford Maddox Ford…This thoughtful and thought-provoking novel is more than a roman à clef, being at two levels a “literary” novel, about aspiring and declining writers and what they go through in their careers and personal lives.”


“A mischievous romp.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Kureishi has written a major work, founded on a major literary problem, set by a master of his craft…The Last Word is Kureishi’s best work to date—it is very funny and goes beyond good taste at almost every point.” (The Times)

The Last Word is a raw and weirdly unstoppable page-turner that reads like a broad Gothic farce with a coiled Pinteresque power-struggle at its centre.” (Pico Iyer)

“Kureishi, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, has always written rock-solid dialogue, and the distinctive voices of the lead characters, each of whom wants something from the others, make this novel an erotic evocation of writer and reader at their most sadomasochistic.”
(Publishers Weekly)

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 643 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 305 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 1476779201
  • Editeur : Faber & Faber; Édition : 01 (21 janvier 2014)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) HASH(0x92af4da4) étoiles sur 5 11 commentaires
10 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x92dda0e0) étoiles sur 5 The Last Word: and what a relief to reach it. 4 février 2014
Par Sue Kichenside - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle
Such a waste of a good idea. Kureishi's tale of two authors could have been such a dazzling battle of wits: who will gain ascendancy, the aging literary ogre Mamoon or Harry, his ambitious young biographer? Both men come across as thoroughly nasty pieces of work - which is fair enough. But the fact that these two characters are so thinly drawn really is unforgiveable.

The writing struck me as lazy, as though Kureishi knocked this off in a matter of weeks. But occasionally, there are flashes of brilliance, little glimpses of what might have been. Here he is on marriage: "One falls in love, and then learns, for the duration, that one is at the mercy of someone else's childhood."

I found The Last Word gratuitously grubby and wonder if it would have found a publisher at all had Kureishi's name not been attached to it. It was particularly interesting to read it straight after And Sons: A Novel by American author David Gilbert. Both authors chose to centre their stories on elderly, venerated, reclusive, irascible writers but in my view Kureishi comes out of the comparison totally outclassed.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x92f9321c) étoiles sur 5 More wit than substance, but earns enough chuckles to be satisfying 3 avril 2015
Par TChris - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Witty observations about human nature are Hanif Kureishi's specialty. In The Last Word, he turns his attention to the dying craft of writing literature at a time when there are "more writers than readers. ... The only books people read were diet books, cookbooks, or exercise books. People didn't want to improve the world, they only wanted better bodies." There isn't much of a story in The Last Word, but Kureishi improves the world by adding a few laughs. While there is more wit than substance in The Last Word, I found the novel worth reading for its ample supply of amusing sentences.

Harry Johnson has been commissioned to write a biography of Mamoon Azam. Mamoon, one of the first dark-skinned Indians to make a splash in the literary world, is Rushdie-like in his stature and opinions. The publisher envisions a controversial biography with a "hot, moody photo" of Mamoon on the cover that will stimulate sales of his books -- "long family novels set in colonial India" -- which are critically acclaimed but mostly ignored by a general reading public that views them as too intellectual.

Mamoon's current wife, Liana Luccioni, insists that the biography must not damage Mamoon's reputation, exactly the opposite of the book Harry's publisher wants him to write. To an extent, The Last Word is a biting commentary on celebrity biographies, which dish dirt to titillate rather than illuminate. Contrary to Liana's belief that readers want "upliftment, to learn the path of greatness so they can follow down it," Harry's publisher believes that readers want icons to be trashed so they can consider themselves the icon's equal.

Mamoon, on the other hand, has no desire to be peeled "as you would an onion." Serious writers are out of fashion, says Mamoon. Now, "no sooner has someone been sodomized by a close relative than they think they can write a memoir." Although Harry believes readers will understand that "sexuality makes fools of everyone," Mamoon resists being made fashionable through the exposure of a past that (if the gossip is to be believed) was exciting and provocative if selfish and cruel. While Mamoon accuses biographers of envying the sex lives of the subjects they trash, he also denies that his life was filled with sexual escapades ("even Philip Larkin had more sex"). Mamoon does, however, appreciate the idea of biography as fiction, since fiction often yields truths that haphazard reality cannot so easily convey.

Although written as a comedy, The Last Word contains some serious thoughts. It is ultimately a novel about the meaning and making of art. Should art stand alone, divorced from its context or creator, freed from "banal and simplistic correlations" between art and the artist's experiences? Is art merely a seduction? To be taken seriously, must artists display passion by crossing boundaries that are denied to most of us? The notion of how love should fit into one's life provides a related theme (for what is love if not art?) that becomes more prominent toward the novel's end. The novel has broad elements of a love story but doesn't try to be one (or perhaps it tries and fails). The assessment of a life in the final years (art as the continuous rewriting of memory) also gives Kureishi a chance to express serious thoughts about reflection and atonement. Still, The Last Word is too fluffy to be regarded as a serious novel.

I suspect that many readers will dislike the novel because they dislike nearly every character but, in a comedy that exposes the weaknesses and foibles of the human spirit, likability seems unimportant. The Last Word is not a long novel but it suffers from a surprising amount of redundancy. Some of that results from seeing Mamoon through various eyes but some of it is repetition that serves no apparent end. To the extent that there is a plot involving Harry and the various women in his life, it's silly and insubstantial. To the extent that the plot focuses on a writer writing about a writer, the story's best moment is a clever plot twist near the end. The Last Word is not as profound as Kureishi wanted it to be, but it gave me enough chuckles to be satisfying.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x92b1366c) étoiles sur 5 ‘I hope you are turning me into a story I can enjoy. Am I interesting? ' 26 janvier 2015
Par Jennifer Cameron-Smith - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle
'I’m so looking forward to being surprised by how I come out.’

Mamoon Azam is an eminent Indian-born writer living in England. Now in his early seventies, sales are miniscule, his reputation is fading, and his current wife, Liana, has very expensive taste. Harry Johnson is an aspiring young writer who has been offered the opportunity of a lifetime - to make a name for himself as Mamoon’s biographer. Both men should be happy: a successful biography will bring Mamoon back into the public eye, and Harry will have an opportunity to work with an author he greatly admires. But is soon becomes clear that Harry, his publisher, Mamoon’s wife and Mamoon himself each have different expectations. Harry wants to reveal the ‘real’ Mamoon, the publisher wants something that will generate headlines, Mamoon’s wife wants a hagiography and Mamoon wants his own interpretation of reality.

‘He was, after all, just a man, and not merely a narrative.’

And so, the stage is set for a battle of wills: will Harry discover the real Mamoon, and the truth about some less savoury aspects of his past? Will Harry resist temptation to be faithful to his fiancée Alice? Is this novel, as some have claimed, simply a lampoon of the author/biographer relationship between V.S. Naipaul and Patrick French? Or is it something deeper?

I found this novel in equal parts enjoyable and frustrating. Enjoyable because it questions whether there are (or should be) boundaries between public and private lives. It made me wonder where any such boundaries should be, and what impact our perception of an author as a person has on our acceptance or rejection of his or her work. Frustrating because none of the characters is likeable enough for me to care much about whose view of reality prevails in the end. So, if it is simply a lampoon, it works well: both biographer and biographee are fairly one dimensional and dislikeable. And if the point is that great writers can be despicable people, I get that too. Perhaps the last word is about expectations:

‘The market had changed; these days there were more writers than readers. Everyone was speaking at once while no one heard, as in an asylum.’

It may all be in the writing, but only if anyone is reading.

Note: My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x93b10eb8) étoiles sur 5 Is it me or are all these characters crazy? 20 mars 2014
Par madge hair - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
I wasn't loving this book, despite being a Kureishi fan. It was hard to like any of the characters, or care about what happened to them. Maybe that was the point, but I just didn't have that feeling of looking forward to snuggling in bed with my Kindle. Shame.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x928a4834) étoiles sur 5 Begins and ends well while everything else is terribly tedious 12 décembre 2014
Par Suzanne - Publié sur
Format: Relié
This book has an appealing topic, a good beginning and a fine ending. The problem is the body of the book which is overwrought or overwritten. It feels as though the author is writing for himself or a small group of insiders who share a common outlook; it is just too clever or too precious. After several chapters the reading is just tedious.
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