Hanif Kureishi's 'The Last Word' lacks a certain sense of voice

March 11, 2015 12:05 PM

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Hanif Kureishi's "The Last Word" suffers from the genius problem: To create a believable virtuoso, the character's brilliance must light up the page. Such an issue arises any time an author tries to write about such a figure: J.D. Salinger, whose weakest effort, the novella "Hapworth 16, 1924," is the only installment in his Glass family saga written in the voice of the avatar-like Seymour, or Don DeLillo, whose "Great Jones Street" is roughest when it features the lyrics of the Dylanesque rock star Bucky Wunderlick.

In Kureishi's case, the genius is Mamoon Azam, an Indian-born great man of letters who late in life invites a young biographer named Harry Johnson to his English country estate. Mamoon is modeled to some extent on V.S. Naipaul - a reactionary, a bully, with unpopular ideas about immigration and race...

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