mercredi 20 mars 2013

Intimacy (1998) by Hanif Kureishi

Some authors are bigger than their works – their lives are larger, more complex, more controversial than their protagonists' lives ever are. Some authors lead quiet lives and they create characters who do all their sinning for them. Hanif Kureishi lies on the edges of the first camp and his novel “Intimacy” encourages the reader to think about how to read a work of fiction that is so obviously grounded in the author's own life.

“Intimacy” is a short book written and published shortly after Kureishi left his wife and two young sons to pursue another woman. In the novel, Jay, the narrator, does the same thing. The comparison between Hanif and Jay should ideally stop here, but it doesn't...

Jay is a complicated, intelligent but altogether disagreeable character who, when asked by a friend, “Don't you believe in anything? Or is virtue only a last resort for you?”, will answer, “I believe in individualism, in sensualism and in creative idleness. I like the human imagination : its delicacy, its brutal aggressive energy, its profundity, its power to transform the material world into art. I like what men and women make. I prefer this to everything else on earth, apart from love and women's bodies, which are at the centre of everything worth living for.”

This is a Big Statement made by Jay in this novel and other characters in other Kureishi novels and by the author himself in interviews he has given over the years. Whether the reader agrees or disagrees with such a credo (it would make a good topic of conversation in an ethics class or a reading group), the problem remains this : how does the reader of literature assess a work of art when the artist's own life and opinions are transposed onto the life of the characters?

Do I like Jay? No. He is an existentialist fool.  Do I understand him? Yes. Do I like Kureishi? Well, how much like Jay is he really? And finally, should this matter?

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