The pieces gathered in Kureishi’s enormous Collected Stories date exclusively from the later part of his career. The book reprints the collections Love in a Blue Time (1997), Midnight All Day (1999) and The Body (2002), adding only a slim volume’s worth of new material. In consequence, it has a hung-over feel; in spite of the sexual charge to many of the stories, Kureishi’s past as a greedy celebrant of urban transgression is mostly a rueful memory.
Again and again, the characters look back on their 70s radicalism and 80s prosperity with a mixture of nostalgia, bewilderment and regret. Joe, the jobbing ad director at the centre of “In a Blue Time”, is by no means alone in no longer having a clue about “what social or political obligations he had, nor much idea where such duties could come from”. Rich or poor, the characters also tend to be veterans of long campaigns of self-indulgence – the baby boomer’s equivalent of war, one of them thinks in “That Was Then”.
Read straight through, the stories evince a limited range of character types. If not some kind of writer, the central figure nearly always works in film, the theatre or television news. He’s sometimes Anglo-Pakistani, but more often isn’t, and in the first few hundred pages he’s likely to be either unhappily married or recently separated. The waning of married love weighs heavily on these men, and the flats they go to for illicit sexual encounters generally have unsatisfactory heating arrangements.
They grow increasingly self-absorbed towards the middle of the book, but while a few lose themselves in cocaine and sex club visits, they mostly start to build more fulfilling relationships, often taking an interest in psychotherapy. By the time of The Body, their partners have started thinking of training as therapists themselves; children have become a source of pleasure, the characters think more searchingly about their own childhoods, and there are greater numbers of grand friends with honours, directorships and New Labour connections.
These stories are like a combination of fine moistured frenzies. We all have them, we all dwell about our life, we all have that schizoid outbreaks when the moon is full, when we worry, when everything is all too much, and all too much is sometimes more connected with no money than with any other needs, but what can you do.
Life is not flawless, you cannot just play ostrich’s hide and seek game or put yourself under your duvet and cry yourself to sleep. I mean, of course you can, but until when to be depressed, unsatisfied and with no lust for life.
These stories are little gems; they have that quality where you always find yourself within them. They are very observation-oriented and very much emphatic. Towards existence, because you can watch the Universe and think romantically a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but let’s face it, it takes guts to live life.
Collected Stories; Kureishi, Hanif; Faber and Faber; Rs. 499