by Brad K. Jacobson
“Nothing is as fascinating as love, unfortunately," Hanif Kureishi writes. But wherein lies the fascination? In the rush of experiencing true love, or in the emotional schizophrenia of infidelity? Or is it hidden in the drudgery of serial monogamy? Perhaps we find it most interesting when someone takes it upon himself to attempt to explain the convoluted map of love's warring provinces.
Kureishi, author of My Beautiful Laundrette and The Black Album, accepts the challenge of charting such muddy terrain in his slim novel, Intimacy. Unfortunately, neither he, nor his hastily drawn characters, seem up to the task. Nowhere is the author more direct in his musings on love and relationships than when the narrator, Jay, ominously states, "Tonight, don't worry, I will set the record crooked." Crooked, indeed.
Feeling stifled by his six-year relationship with Susan, a woman who "thinks she's a feminist but [is] just bad-tempered," Jay decides to leave her and their two sons. He believes that "anxiety handcuffed us to one another," and yet he tortures himself with his insipid mental—and, God help us all, literal—masturbation. Jay pines away for the intangible Nina, all the while vacillating every few pages between duty and lust. In Nina, Jay naively believes he has discovered the key to his becoming someone whom he can respect, or, at the very least, stomach. Nina is hardly the first woman with whom Jay has committed adultery, and yet he whines, "Is it too much to want a tender and complete intimacy?" without a shred of irony. For all of his morose gushing about the situation which he has created, he is hardly an articulate man. He is, in fact, a walking jumble of contradictions, making it all the more difficult to find him a sympathetic character. In a brief exchange with a happily coupled friend, Jay reveals himself as the most pathetic of all creatures, an inarticulate and unrepentant philanderer:
"I have my opinions," I say. "But they're unimportant. They change every day. It's always something of a relief not to have an opinion. . . . But I tell you, when it comes to this matter, it is an excess of belief that I suffer from. . . . In the possibilities of intimacy. In love."
Kureishi attempts to produce a delicate, filigreed commentary on the state of human intimacy at the second fin de siècle. What better time to cash in on everyone's feelings of apocalyptic despair and withering disdain for anything as genuine as true love? Yet as always, love continues to resist easy explanation, and will not be deciphered in so short a space or by so ramshackle a literary construction.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 1999 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 1999