05 December 2009

Hanif Kureishi's Intimacy

Author: Hanif Kureishi
Year of Publishing: 1998
Pages: 155

Hanif Kureishi is known for his controversial, soul-baring and highly sexed up prose. The way Kureishi sees it, life is the proverbial Wasteland, everything is ‘fu*ked up and there is no way out.

Kureishi started out by writing pornography. He went on to write novels. His relatives and people close to him constantly complained how personal details of their life cropped up in his stark novels. His book, Intimacy was especially embroiled in controversy, because it was intensely personal and the events that happen in the book are supposedly what Kureishi went through himself.

Intimacy is about a man on the verge of leaving his wife of ten years and two adorable sons. His idea is to slink away quietly in the darkness of the night and never come back. In the very first page, the protagonist (Jay) makes his intentions clear. The whole book is in fact a long emotional outpouring of male angst and the unbearable loneliness and emptiness that has crept into his marriage and life. Jay's emotional response is to bid goodbye to this meaningless existence where he feels claustrophobic, unloved. His wife Susan, by Jay's own assessment is a dexterous woman, who can cope well with things. Her range of feeling is narrow and hence she can keep things simple. Like most busy mothers, robust practicality overrides other concerns for Susan and her toughened stance on daily matters stands in contrast with the protagonist’s lax, carefree, desultory mind that wants to escape the grind of domesticity and its accompanying rigours.

There are deeply affecting thoughts and incisive enquiry into the human heart with passages such as these, "Susan often accuses me of lack of application. It was what my teachers said, that I didn't concentrate. But I was concentrating. I believe the mind is always conentrating - on something that interests it. Skirts and jokes and cricket and pop, in my case. Despite ourselves, we know what we like, and our errors and distracted excursions are illuminations. Perhaps only the unsought is worthwhile..."

In most of the book, the protagonist is making a case for why he should leave his marriage. His cynical mind argues the futility of a social bond in which no love exists any more. The thought of his sons holds him back, but he convinces himself that they will be fine.
He compares his life with two of his friends, Alex – a committed married man, who has learnt to live with the occasional unhappiness in his domestic life. He’s proud that he’s sticking by one woman and advices Jay to do the same.
At the other end of the spectrum is his friend Victor, who has left his wife and is currently enjoying his promiscuous life as a bachelor.
Jay's mind is also occupied with thoughts of Nina, an attractive, young girl who he has been dating. But now he doesn't know where he stands with her either.

The author Hanif Kureishi has been a student of philosophy in London and expectedly he takes the opportunity to dwell on the institution of marriage and how ultimately it becomes an entrapment, extracting a heavy price through the denial of personal hope and dreams.

Kureishi is most assuredly cynical about his marriage and the institution in general, but he's also conscious of the larger human condition where loneliness is inevitable. Even if he were to leave his wife, would the love he finds outside last at all? "Suppose it is like an illness that you give to everyone you meet," he asks.

The book teems with quotes on marriage, desire and life in general. Talking about his parents' relationship, the protagonist says, "Both he and mother were frustrated, neither being able to find a way to get what they wanted, whatever that was. Nevertheless they were loyal and faithful to one another. Disloyal and unfaithful to themselves."

His protagonist's act is clearly irresponsible, but there is a touch of poignancy in his need to be accepted and loved. He says he will not leave, if only his wife were to touch him in bed tonight and make him feel wanted.

Writers always express best that which is close to their heart. Intimacy could only have been written by a man who felt all those emotions and who lived through a period of moral, social and personal dilemma.
At less than 150 pages, the book is an intimate and personal exploration into a man's mind, torn between conflicting feelings. The book was possibly written at one go in a stream -of-consciousness narrative, wherein thoughts travel back and forth in time.
The book puts forth questions but attempts to provide no real answers. It's one person's point of view from a singular prism, which means it eschews the larger issues in marriage. This book confirms your worst fears about marital bonds but there is no larger exploration of the institution in today's context.

Men might relate to the book more, most women will despise it. Intimacy is like reading only one half of a more complicated story. But for what it is, the novella gives you a penetrating, insightful view into the male psyche and to that extent, it is a worthy read.

PS: The book was adapted into a film by Patrice Chereau, titled, Intimacy


rishi said...

mast hai!! where i can get this novel?

Abhishek Bandekar said...

Intimacy is like reading only one half of a more complicated story.

That is a wonderful summation. I've always felt that many of these books that deal with 'male angst' generally present only one half...the conveniently self-deriding yet wallowing in self-pity half. But I guess, like it is in romantic films, we, the audience, be it the viewing one or the reading one, is satisfied so long as the 'picture' presented, even if it is not a 'unisexual' one, is poignant and cathartic.

I'd seen the film version a few years ago...and although the film dealt with loathing very well, I felt the whole French Extremity wave kinda felt forced...this film needed to be 'intimate'...the explicit sex scenes were anything but.

Ajit said...

thanks i will surely go for that ...

Kaushik said...

terrific... each of your blogs... need to read all of them... please help me.. i have a doubt that i did meet you in Pune... Are you the same... You joined TOI when i was just about to leave TOI... 2001 i think... I was a student of SIMC...
do write back if you are the same at kaushik@kaushikchakravorty.com

Sandhya Iyer said...

Yes, Kaushik, I was with TOI for three years. And I have a faint memory of knowing you. Thanks for visiting.

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