Collected Stories

How well do we really know Hanif Kureishi? After finishing these stories, one is left with an uneasy feeling that he has become famous for the wrong things, or, at least, that he has been pigeonholed a little too early. There are reasons for this. His screenplays (My Beautiful Laundrette in 1986, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid in 1988) were published before his first novel (The Buddha of Suburbia, 1990), so his notoriety was first for urban grit; more recently it has been for daring to write about Islamic fanaticism. In reality, Kureishi's themes are universal.

He is a proper writer - the full package - and he has been for some time. In a collection of this kind, you would expect to see some sort of
progression, but what we see is consistency - not just of purpose, but also of theme. Kureishi majors on the happenstance of material success, the sheer randomness of who gets rich and who doesn't.

Time and again, he strips wealthy characters of their material success, gradually, leaving them disturbingly naked and utterly alone. This is true of "In a Blue Time", the first story in the collection, in which we meet Roy, whose life has collided with undeserved wealth: “Roy hadn't settled in any of the worlds he inhabited, but only stepped through them like hotel rooms." Kureishi understands women. His uncompromising style is far more feminist than misogynist (despite what some critics of his finest novel so far, Intimacy, have claimed).

The truth is that his men are weaker than his women. For example, Roy, a director of music videos, simply cannot understand why his shambolic friend Jimmy is more attractive than he is. Maybe, it is suggested to us, the courage to be poor is attractive in itself. "Not everyone was brave enough to fall so far out of the light," he writes of Jimmy.

In "Maggie", one of the newer stories, Kureishi returns to his favourite theme. Max, a wealthy but despairing millionaire television producer with a Blair-era OBE, meets up with an old university girlfriend. It is Max, not Maggie, who has given up. He has resigned from his own life. "Hasn't it occurred to you lately," she asks him, "what a conventional age we are living in now? I mean, of coercive ideals, the tyranny of the closed." Later, Maggie rages against her old friend, asking him why he has given up when she has not: “Feminism taught me that women are capable of deep passion, aliveness and exploration. We can burn on until the end of the night whether we win or lose."

Max's expectation of success has, in effect, stifled him.

Some of the later stories tell tales of dispossessed parenthood so acutely observed that one must assume Kureishi has burlesqued his own autobiography. In "Remember This Moment, Remember Us", two parents video a future message to Dan, their uncherished child. "These words from eternity will serve as a simple reminder," Dan's drunk father tells us. "After all, it is the unloved who are the most dangerous people on this earth."

And in "The Real Father", Mal, a guilt-racked dad, takes his unplanned son - Wallace, whose mother has kept the child from him until he is nine - away on a trip. Wallace, you see, is his "eternal connection to a stranger". The boy simply says of his father: "He's my real daddy but not really."
In "The Decline of the West", we meet Mike, a banker who seems to have lost his job, as well as his soul, but cannot tell his acquisitive wife. Mike has nothing to offer his family other than money. And in "Phillip", another new story, Kureishi returns to the device of a successful friend encountering one who has "failed" late in life.

This time, Fred, a screenwriter, gets a call from an old friend who tells him that he is dying. Kureishi understands how the wealthy colonise neighbourhoods, huddling together, seeking reassurance and protecting themselves from the outside. After his final meeting with Phillip, Fred is left to acknowledge that "each of us builds our own prison and then complains about the confinement and the food".

David Yelland was editor of the Sun between 1998 and 2003. His debut novel, “The Truth About Leo", will be published in April by Penguin Books

Collected Stories
Hanif Kureishi
Faber & Faber, 688pp, £14.99