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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Left me puzzled....
The relationship between a biographer and their subject is rich material for any novelist. In Kureishi’s new book, Harry Johnson is employed to write the life of Mamoon, a modern literary giant. There has been lively comment in the press about the similarities of Kureishi’s plot to the story of the writer VS Naipaul and his biographer, Patrick French. I was...
Published 16 months ago by Drambuster

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Last Word
Theoretically, this should have been a novel I loved. The subject matter sounded very appealing, it is set in the literary world, which appeals to readers, and it started well. However, somehow, the book did not live up to the promise of either the storyline or the strong beginning. Harry Johnson is a young writer who has published one biography, on Nehru, and has...
Published 4 months ago by S Riaz


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Left me puzzled...., 31 Jan. 2014
This review is from: The Last Word (Hardcover)
The relationship between a biographer and their subject is rich material for any novelist. In Kureishi’s new book, Harry Johnson is employed to write the life of Mamoon, a modern literary giant. There has been lively comment in the press about the similarities of Kureishi’s plot to the story of the writer VS Naipaul and his biographer, Patrick French. I was unaware of the history between Naipaul and his biographer and if there are similarities, I now know a lot more.
‘The Last Word’ presents some pretty awful people behaving pretty awfully. The writer Mamoon comes across as an uncouth bully whose only positive credentials are his literary output. His present wife is shallow and vapid and the rest of Kureishi’s cast are all bruised and damaged individuals, often injured by Mamoon himself. I was left wondering if Kureishi was commenting on the way in which the literary world places certain writers on a pedestal when, as individuals there is little to like.
There is great emphasis on sex and the sexual life. This does not always propel the novel and at times appears written for the sake of it. It has the effect of jointing the story into parts that don’t hang together. Some scenes are brilliant, others convoluted and the overall effect is a novel that is good, but in parts.
There is much to think about in this book and overall, I enjoyed it. There are messages here, it’s just that they are a bit obscure. Kureishi has made me work and that’s not a bad thing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Last Word, 19 Jan. 2015
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 10 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Last Word (Kindle Edition)
Theoretically, this should have been a novel I loved. The subject matter sounded very appealing, it is set in the literary world, which appeals to readers, and it started well. However, somehow, the book did not live up to the promise of either the storyline or the strong beginning. Harry Johnson is a young writer who has published one biography, on Nehru, and has been commissioned by publisher, Rob Deveraux, to write the life story of the great author, Mamoon Azam. Azam is a ‘serious’ novelist which, in reality, means that he has a lot of status but not a great deal of money. His reputation is fading, along with his book sales, and a new biography could be just the thing to help bring him back into the public eye.

Harry Johnson longs for wealth and security. He wants to settle down with his fiancée, Alice; to have a house worthy of his status and enhance his reputation. For him, writing Mamoon’s biography can bring him as many plaudits as the book could earn the subject of the biography. Meanwhile, as Mamoon’s second wife, Liana, begs Harry to write a ‘gentle’ book, Rob is asking him to seek out as much dirt as possible and write a salacious biography which will sell. Before long, Harry’s life is becoming complicated, he feels manipulated and his dreams begin to fall apart. Meanwhile, although Mamoon states he is happy to have Harry write his story, the author seems to avoid him at all costs – beetling away whenever he approaches and refusing to answer any questions.

Even while writing this review, I keep thinking what a good book this could have been. If I had only cared about the characters or found them more sympathetic, but somehow I didn’t. In the middle of the novel, the storyline floundered and I struggled to the end. Overall, the beginning of the book is the most enjoyable part, but it lost focus, although the author did manage to create a good ending. A reasonably enjoyable read, but it could have been so much better. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
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3.0 out of 5 stars ‘I hope you are turning me into a story I can enjoy. Am I interesting? ', 26 Jan. 2015
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Last Word (Hardcover)
'I’m so looking forward to being surprised by how I come out.’

Mamoon Azam is an eminent Indian-born writer living in England. Now in his early seventies, sales are miniscule, his reputation is fading, and his current wife, Liana, has very expensive taste. Harry Johnson is an aspiring young writer who has been offered the opportunity of a lifetime - to make a name for himself as Mamoon’s biographer. Both men should be happy: a successful biography will bring Mamoon back into the public eye, and Harry will have an opportunity to work with an author he greatly admires. But is soon becomes clear that Harry, his publisher, Mamoon’s wife and Mamoon himself each have different expectations. Harry wants to reveal the ‘real’ Mamoon, the publisher wants something that will generate headlines, Mamoon’s wife wants a hagiography and Mamoon wants his own interpretation of reality.

‘He was, after all, just a man, and not merely a narrative.’

And so, the stage is set for a battle of wills: will Harry discover the real Mamoon, and the truth about some less savoury aspects of his past? Will Harry resist temptation to be faithful to his fiancée Alice? Is this novel, as some have claimed, simply a lampoon of the author/biographer relationship between V.S. Naipaul and Patrick French? Or is it something deeper?

I found this novel in equal parts enjoyable and frustrating. Enjoyable because it questions whether there are (or should be) boundaries between public and private lives. It made me wonder where any such boundaries should be, and what impact our perception of an author as a person has on our acceptance or rejection of his or her work. Frustrating because none of the characters is likeable enough for me to care much about whose view of reality prevails in the end. So, if it is simply a lampoon, it works well: both biographer and biographee are fairly one dimensional and dislikeable. And if the point is that great writers can be despicable people, I get that too. Perhaps the last word is about expectations:

‘The market had changed; these days there were more writers than readers. Everyone was speaking at once while no one heard, as in an asylum.’

It may all be in the writing, but only if anyone is reading.

Note: My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slumps and collapses half way through, 27 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: The Last Word (Hardcover)
It's always a mistake to recommend a book to anyone else before actually finishing it oneself, but I was tempted with this one as it starts so well, with seemingly promising characters and some lively and very funny writing. But there's a fine line between being bitchily funny (he's certainly good at that) and plain vindictiveness, and after this strong beginning Kureishi's creative engines seem to stutter and die. It's as though he's found a more appealing project to be getting along with and has lost interest in his characters (and what barely passes for a plot) and everything just meanders to and fro rather pointlessly before finally fizzling out. Anyone wanting to read an interesting book about the relationship between writers need look no further than Paul Theroux's riveting 'Sir Vidia's Shadow'. It's not a novel, but has in spades everything 'The Last Word' lacks. Theroux doesn't suffer fools gladly; Kureishi doesn't seem to like people at all.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Weird but good, 10 Dec. 2014
By 
Laura Smith (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Last Word (Kindle Edition)
I found this to be a really enjoyable read. Harry is asked to write a biography of the great writer Mamoon, and this will make or break his career. So far so boring, but when Harry goes to stay with Mamoon and his wife, things get a little weird. Mamoon is very eccentric and awkward and as Harry gets drawn into his life, things get a little odd for him too. As the book rolls along, we find that Harry is not quite who we thought and the whole thing becomes quite sordid. It's an odd book to be sure but I did enjoy it a lot.
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2.0 out of 5 stars ... to spend time with his subject - a Naipaul like character - who lives with his wife near Taunton, 27 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Last Word (Hardcover)
The basic idea is that a young biographer is to spend time with his subject - a Naipaul like character - who lives with his wife near Taunton. After the initial amusing scene setting the writing degenerates and the wry humor becomes burlesque and absurd. There is no development and the characters become steadily more cartoon like.
What a pity.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I'm normally a big Kureishi fan but don't quite know how I strugged through this desperate drivel, 1 April 2014
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This review is from: The Last Word (Hardcover)
This is an awful book. There's no plot other than young writer meets old writer of some renown with the aim of producing a biography. The characters that surround them are one-dimensional, implausible and utterly unlikeable. Supposedly set in a country house near Taunton, one wonders what Kureishi's forays into the English countryside have been like. We end up with a mad foreign couple who'd be far more suited to Kensington served by a chavvy local white family (the daughter conveniently sleeping with the young writer and forming a friendship with latter's girlfriend).

But it's the prose that is so disappointing, The stand-out asides, the stop and make you think one-liners, the sense of time and place , the spot-on youth culture references, that Kureishi take on Modern Britain have all but disappeared. In its place we get relentless name-checks that add nothing to the story and seem only to be there to remind us of the uber-reach of the author's cultural dexterity.

One page alone, for no obvious benefit, references Strindberg, Kafka, An Inspector Calls and Leonard Cohen. And that's not an untypical page. A character is more Johnny Rotten than Joseph Conrad. Whatever that might mean. There's pages of this sort of stuff. Yes, it's a book about writers writing about writers. But this is just pretentious.

And grubby. Kureishi has always embraced the sex scene and has written about it provocatively. But, previously, humour has shone through too. But not here. This is just a litany of gross references to fingers and orifices that would repel most readers.

Kureishi has proved himself as one of the great modern British writers. His back catalogue has many treasures. Why he's chosen to soil that with this drivel is a mystery.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Last Word - and what a relief to reach it., 4 Feb. 2014
By 
Sue Kichenside - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Last Word (Hardcover)
Such a waste of a good idea. Kureishi's tale of two authors could have been such a dazzling battle of wits: who will gain ascendancy, the aging literary ogre Mamoon or Harry, his ambitious young biographer? Both men come across as thoroughly nasty pieces of work - which is fair enough. But the fact that these two characters are so thinly drawn really is unforgiveable.

The writing struck me as lazy, as though Kureishi knocked this off in a matter of weeks. But occasionally, there are flashes of brilliance, little glimpses of what might have been. Here he is on marriage: "One falls in love, and then learns, for the duration, that one is at the mercy of someone else's childhood."

I found The Last Word gratuitously grubby and wonder if it would have found a publisher at all had Kureishi's name not been attached to it. It was particularly interesting to read it straight after And Sons by American author David Gilbert. Both authors chose to centre their stories on elderly, venerated, reclusive, irascible writers but in my view Kureishi comes out of the comparison totally outclassed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Upstairs Downstairs for Guardian readers, 22 April 2014
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This review is from: The Last Word (Hardcover)
Entertaining at the start then falls apart a bit, needs a good editor, this is problem with old writers, they go on too much, and no one dares edit them. Not sure about the sex tips - strangely etiolated - but generally a good read.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Hopefully this is THE LAST WORD i!, 13 April 2015
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This review is from: The Last Word (Hardcover)
So disappointed!
The book is absolutely the most tedious and pointless book I have ever read.
The story is so convoluted and ridiculous!
I really expected much more from Kureishi.
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The Last Word
The Last Word by Hanif Kureishi (Hardcover - 23 Jan. 2014)
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