Hanif Kureishi's previous book, Intimacy--an account of the writer's abandonment of his marriage--divided critical opinion violently, but the novel's unsparing honesty marked it as one of Kureishi's best works, with an excoriating, spiky cussedness that sidestepped the wheedling self-justifications of most "confessional" books. Midnight All Day, his new collection of short stories, continues his exploration of the irrational impulses of desire. Some of the protagonists here seem to be barely disguised avatars of the author, as if Kureishi had felt compelled to go over the earlier material obsessively, from different angles, through different voices: a prismatic opening up of the emotional complexity of Intimacy (the book is alluded to in the first story; elsewhere there are uneasy discussions about the ethics of writing). There is a clinical quality to his observations, an anatomisation born not of indifference but of fascinated curiosity at the perplexing disarray of human relationships, the shifts from desperate need to boredom, the uneasy fragility of the alliances that lovers make: "We are unerring in our choice of lovers, particularly when we require the wrong person. There is an instinct, magnet or aerial which seeks the unsuitable. The wrong person is, of course, right for something--to punish, bully or humiliate us, let us down, leave us for dead, or, worst of all, give us the impression that they are not inappropriate, but almost right, thus hanging us in love's limbo."
He perhaps shows in these stories that what he has always been interested in is the unfathomable pitch of sexuality-- ultimately idiosyncratic and endlessly fascinating, a chaotic accumulation of people's myriad specific needs, anxieties and desires.
Kureishi has moved away from the more obviously politicised terrain of earlier work, though elegiac glimpses of it surface occasionally, ruminations on the wake of idealism. If the long years of Thatcherism made a kind of political writing unavoidable, the 90s has seen a shift of focus to the landscape within, to what we are as men or women. This selfishness stems from a recognition of the inability ever to know the other. ("If falling in love could only be a glimpse of the other, who was the passion really directed at?") What remains is the search for gratification and the scrutiny of one's own impulses, an alternation between compulsion and a need for freedom.
The final story, "The Penis", is an unsubtle reworking of Gogol's "The Nose". It is as if, after all the analysis, Kureishi is despairing of ever reaching a better understanding of love: all that's left is one man and his dick, in uneasy alliance. --Burhan Tufail