Few would deny that the contours of this morality tale appear staggeringly familiar. The Faustian allegory of the punishments visited on those who aspire to immortality—not to mention sexy bodies purchased in new-age corpse-shops!—has been done to death. Indeed, this self-aware, witty text indexes Dorian Gray, Hamlet, Whitehead and Lacan, offering fresh evidence of Kureishi’s college degree in philosophy and his involvement with the stage. So the reader wonders why he wishes to rejuvenate a cliché.
The answer lies in Kureishi’s longstanding obsessions. He has always explored boundary-crossings. From My Beautiful Laundrette on, autobiography and alienation are his constant themes. Here, he uses the metaphor of mental immigration to consider his own transition into middle age and to reassure us that family values and friendship survive ageing flesh.
Fiction has seldom served a more ethical purpose. But what gives Kureishi’s message ‘body’ is his sinewy language. That surgeon’s scalpel so prominent in his initial story also appears a skilled tool in his hands. The eight sections of the title novella are balanced in the second half by seven short stories, adding up to a neat eight—as if the limbs carefully sutured in the novella are deliberately dissected again. In the process, Kureishi reaffirms his own identity as a contemporary writer of distinction—certainly not a nobody.