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According to some, “The Last Word” is a roman-à-clef that tells the story of the relationship between Nobel laureate V S Naipaul and his biographer Patrick French. French was given permission by Naipaul to write his story, as seen by French, who not only interviewed the laureate, but also had access to his archives.
Harry Johnson is thrilled to bits when he is asked to write a biography of 70 year old, Mamoon Azam, an eminent Indian-born writer. Mamoon has made a name for himself in England, but is now on a decline. He not only wants to be remembered, he also wants loads of cash to support his new wife and his rich lifestyle.Harry also sees this an opportunity for himself. He has been looking for a new project that will help him make a name for himself and launch him into the public world with a rosy future and a healthy bank balance. According to Rob, the eccentric publisher, “if you wrote one successful book, you could live in it’s light for ten years”. And that is exactly what Harry thinks will happen to him if he manages to write a mad and wild book on Mamoon.
Thus starts Harry’s quest to uncover details about Mamoon, that readers would pay to read. Harry and Mamoon find themselves playing a game with each other and Harry’s own complexes mar his quest for the juicy truth. Mamoon’s wife Liana, adds to the absurdness of the plot and it makes you wonder who will have the last word.
Hanif Kureishi is well known for powerful prose. He has the knack of writing beautifully detailed narratives with light humour and sometimes dark satire. In The Last Word too, Kureishi lives up to his reputation, creating a story that starts off promisingly and has the reader wanting to read on.
However, as one reads on, that promise is broken and the story drags. The plot starts looking shallow, with both the men taking the women in their lives, for granted. There is exaggeration and confusion in various aspects of the book: emotions, characters, sex and drama. The story loses it’s charm and makes the reader wonder and question Kureishi’s idea behind writing this book.
But the saving grace is that in the end, the arduous story does comes together somewhat and redeems itself partially.
You do get to know who has ‘The Last Word’.