Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

As a document of the late 1970's in London, this book is very successful. It captures the change of youth culture from prog rock to punk as Karim moves from school to acting, from the family unit to a broken home and independence. In the course of his journey he falls in love with men and women, he has his heart broken and he is forced to confront his mixed race identity.

Karim is the narrator of the novel, and it is this that gives the unique voice that is both powerful and irritating. He is young, he is pretentious, he is not able to see himself clearly. In the early stages of the novel when he is still at school this is apt and draws the reader into the South London world. However, towards the end of the novel when Karim has experienced so much, he still remains naive and lacking in self awareness. This means that his betrayal of his friends and family is for nothing, as his character has not learnt from his experiences.

There is a definite lack of development of Karim's mother. You are left with impression that she ceases to exist for large parts of the book, whilst the character of his father is so vibrant that he has a presence throughout the novel, even when he is not actually there. This lack of development of the female characters is a weakness.

The theatre scenes are very uncomfortable to read. Firstly this is due to Karim's plundering of his friend's character for comic effect. His impression is cruel and yet he continues with it in order to improve his status in the cast. The other reason why this section is uncomfortable is the charcatured theatre director, abusing his cast and preying on them sexually. Kureishi has apparently admitted basing this character on Howard Kirk in Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man, and it is easy to see how closely based he is.

This book is not the masterpiece that is is sometimes made out to be.

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