February 19, 2020
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Anatomy Of Faust

Kureishi reaffirms his own identity as a contemporary writer of distinction -- certainly not a nobody.

Anatomy Of Faust
Anatomy Of Faust
The Body And Seven Stories
By Hanif Kureishi
Faber and Faber Pages: 274; £ 7.99
His book may be called The Body but Hanif Kureishi’s subject in this latest volume is really the opposite—disembodiment. He deals with ghosts; with the haunting albatrosses of the past and avenging furies of the future. In the title story, a famous author is invited to exchange his flagging ‘Oldbody’ for a youthful ‘Newbody’. Unable to resist, he undergoes a radical brain transplant. Predictably, adventurous orgies follow—but also grave disaster. Quite soon, our hero realises that the quotidian routines and congenial loves of his former life are priceless and that any ‘free’ pursuit of pleasure entails a terrifying, seamy underside. Banished to the very edges of existence, he is condemned forever to be a floating ghost—a nobody.

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.

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