Books & Literature

Book Review: The Nothing, by Hanif Kureishi

An ageing film maker with ailing health begins to suspect that his wife is having an affair with a family friend and he becomes obsessed with the idea.

The Nothing pivots on the word ‘nothing’, applicable to the love triangle between characters from which Kureishi spins out lives lived at the edge of death.

Grand cinema identity Waldo, in his 70s, is dying. At the edge of feminine social invisibility is his wife, Zenab, proud of her former alluring beauty which is fast fading away. Eddie, the couple’s friend/acquaintance of 30 years, journalist and doco maker, desperately wants the film world to recognise him as alive and important, not an undead wannabe zombie looking for a break. Waldo is convinced Zaneb and Eddie are having an affair. He investigates.

It is through Waldo’s eyes we see and receive the poetry and monstrosity of all their lives, existing as he does in a psychologically and physically claustrophobic space fuelled by a wild, lustful, Dionysian, erudite, jealous, filthy and disgusting soul.

Coming up to breathe after immersing yourself in Kureishi’s gripping and brutal exposition of physical decay leaves you savouring an experience far greater than the less than 200 pages it takes to tell the tale.

The Nothing is cinematically poetic, filled with whimsical black humour. It’s as if Kureishi has taken Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film noir masterpiece, Rear Window, and turned it inside out. Unlike James Stewart’s character in Rear Window, who looks out to the world with a camera to catch a crime, Waldo uses every contemporary trick of his trade to gaze and spy within the walls of his home. In doing so, he equally gazes long and hard at his putrid, yet powerfully beguiling inner self, and his relationship with Zaneb. Then there’s his consideration of Eddie, this friend who, in many respects to Waldo, is a suspicious upstart nothing of a man.

The writing is exuberant with shocking energy; it’s unapologetically raw and direct. Waldo is a magnificently drawn colossus of a character, a towering ode to the misspent energy and arrogance of the free love era, and the sins of power it encouraged in its greats.

His wife and Eddie seem simultaneously to be bit players in a drama greater than themselves, yet are themselves fighting the death of their hopes and inner being as much as Waldo is.

The Nothing proves conclusively that Hanif Kresushi’s range as a novelist is much broader than thought possible.

Reviewed by David O’Brien
Twitter: @DavidOBupstART

Rating out of 10:  10

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Release date: June 2017
RRP: $24.99 hardcover

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