Love In A Blue Time

Charles Taylor reviews 'Love in a Blue Time' by Hanif Kureishi

Published November 19, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

Nobody can make you homesick for sleaze the way Hanif Kureishi can. Most of the characters in his fiction are first generation British or Asians recently transplanted to the U.K. The London they live in has almost nothing to do with tourist brochures or "Masterpiece Theatre." It's a dirty, smelly place, riven by racial tensions and the lack of money, dangerous and hard-hearted and almost impossibly vital.

Kureishi's last novel, "The Black Album," was the most affectionate description of the pop kaleidoscope of London life since Colin MacInnes' "Absolute Beginners." Would that his short stories had the same affection. Most of the tales in "Love in a Blue Time" seem cut from the same cloth as his screenplay for "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid." That is, cheaply ironic and far, far too satisfied with its own hip radicalism.

"Love In a Blue Time" isn't good, but you wouldn't mistake it for the work of a bad writer. Perhaps it's Kureishi's affinity for pop music that gives his work it's up-to-the-moment feel, its ability to get at the essence of an era through its fashions and attitudes that can make the work of other current British writers seem to be moldering on the shelf. Even when scoring easy points, he can sum up those who prospered in the Thatcher '80s in one paragraph: "He had lived through an age when men and women with energy and ruthlessness but without much ability or persistence excelled. And even though most of them had gone under, their ignorance had confused Roy, making him wonder whether the things he had striven to learn, and thought of as 'culture,' were irrelevant. Everything was supposed to be the same: commercials, Beethoven's late quartets, pop records, shopfronts, Freud, multi-coloured hair. Greatness, comparison, value, depth: gone, gone, gone. Anything could give some pleasure; he saw that. But not everything provided the sustenance of a deeper understanding."

Unfortunately, those last two lines pretty much sum up this collection. These short stories bring out Kureishi's worst quality, the way he sometimes settles for reducing character to a matter of a few nasty brushstrokes. Kureishi is the kind of guy who needs to commit to the all-night party to work up a real feel for the scene. He's too talented to drop in just to let go with a couple of bitchy remarks.

By Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

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