“Hanif Kureishi’s best novel since The Buddha of Suburbia” (The Independent, UK): a mischievous, wickedly funny, and intellectually deft story about a young biographer and the famous and reclusive novelist who is his subject.
Mamoon Azam is an eminent Indian-born writer who has made a career in England—but now, in his early seventies, his reputation is fading, his book sales are nonexistent, and the expensive habits of his flamboyant second wife are bleeding him dry. In a final attempt to revitalize his career, Mamoon’s publisher commissions Harry, an ambitious young writer, to produce a provocative biography to bring Mamoon back into the public eye.
Harry sets off for Mamoon’s estate, where he finds not the literary hero he had imagined, but a vain, bigoted, cynical, and cruelly manipulative genius, who quickly turns the tables on his ambitious young biographer. Harry must insinuate, seduce, and finesse the truth out of the extravagant and damaged characters in Mamoon’s surreal sphere as the young writer and the old master battle for the last word in the story of Mamoon’s life. Acute and brilliantly entertaining, The Last Word is a tale of youthful exuberance and the misery of outgrowing it, as hilarious as it is moving. It is Kureishi’s wisest work to date.
The new novel from Kureishi (The Buddha of Suburbia) follows Harry Johnson, an aimless young but not that young writer, dispatched by his sleazy editor to the estate of Mamoon Azam, a famously difficult Indian-born author (transparently modeled on V.S. Naipaul). Harry's editor wants him to worm his way into the man's affections and write a sordid bestseller biography exposing Mamoon's past indiscretions, which are apparently so vile they drove his first wife to fatal alcoholism. This is where Kureishi turns the tables, as Harry turns out to be less of a lamb than we might expect, entering into a battle of wits with Liana, Mamoon's vain and glamorous trophy wife, bedding a maid whom he enlists as a spy, and otherwise transforming himself into Mamoon's mirror image. But the older writer proves a formidable adversary, one who has his own legacy in mind. The ensuing battle of writerly wills, of narratives and counter narratives, reaches a boiling point once Mamoon is introduced to Harry's pregnant fianc , who could wind up as the master's final heroine or his last conquest. Kureishi, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, has always written rock-solid dialogue, and the distinctive voices of the lead characters, each of whom wants something from the others, make this novel an erotic evocation of writer and reader at their most sadomasochistic.