cover image The Last Word

The Last Word

Hanif Kureishi. Scribner, $24 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7921-8

The new novel from Kureishi (The Buddha of Suburbia) follows Harry Johnson, an aimless young—but not that young—writer, dispatched by his sleazy editor to the estate of Mamoon Azam, a famously difficult Indian-born author (transparently modeled on V.S. Naipaul). Harry’s editor wants him to worm his way into the man’s affections and write a sordid bestseller biography exposing Mamoon’s past indiscretions, which are apparently so vile they drove his first wife to fatal alcoholism. This is where Kureishi turns the tables, as Harry turns out to be less of a lamb than we might expect, entering into a battle of wits with Liana, Mamoon’s vain and glamorous trophy wife, bedding a maid whom he enlists as a spy, and otherwise transforming himself into Mamoon’s mirror image. But the older writer proves a formidable adversary, one who has his own legacy in mind. The ensuing battle of writerly wills, of narratives and counter narratives, reaches a boiling point once Mamoon is introduced to Harry’s pregnant fiancé, who could wind up as the master’s final heroine—or his last conquest. 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. (Mar.)