FOR Hanif Kureishi, the business of creative writing has got caught up in issues of reportage. His new book Intimacy sits on the fiction shelves of bookstores, as did The Buddha of Suburbia published eight years ago. But the books are both about himself and his life, close enough for his mother, sister and his former partner to say that he wasn't just writing fiction; he was getting his facts wrong.
Intimacy is nakedly, brutally almost, about walking away from his partner Tracey Scoffield, even if he calls her Susan. A bitter letter really to the woman he left, a letter the reading public is invited to look at. "Nobody believes it's just pure fiction," claims Scoffield, speaking days after Kureishi's sister Yasmin wrote to The Guardian following an interview in which he spoke about his family. Her brother, she said, was lying about their family life, and had "sold his family down the line."
Hanif Kureishi is quiet in the face of the facts about the 'facts' he has been writing about. But it raises questions about a writer's licence to fictionalise his life. Or, the ethics of writing autobiography, fooling about with facts and calling it fiction. "He says it's a novel, but that's an absolute abdication of responsibility," Scoffield said in an interview to The Observer. "It's total hypocrisy. There are sequences which are intended for me only and only I can understand them."
Kureishi writes about the 'Susan' of the story: "I liked her humdrum dexterity and ability to cope." That's about as generous as he gets. Later, about a session with a counsellor: "Susan's fat red weeping face in that room the second time, as I declare that I don't think things can be repaired. To have made it absolutely clear, I should have given her a back-hander or a finger...