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3.4 out of 5 stars24
3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 31 January 2014
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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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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on 15 August 2015
Harry is a prospective writer who is given a commission to write the biography of faded literary giant Haroon. Haroon wrote one good novel and several interesting items many years ago but has produced little of late and is living in the country with his second wife, the glamorous Italian Liana. Harry is in a relationship with Alice, a beautiful spendaholic, but that doesn't stop him being unfaithful. In this book life seems to imitate life, Haroon escaped life in India to try to become part of the establishment in England, Harry was educated at a top school before Oxbridge. Haroon is a serial seducer, so is Harry. Both had difficult relationships with their fathers.
As Harry writes about Haroon he finds a lot of half-truths and blocks to him getting to the heart of the subject and so it feels with this novel. The premise is clever, as Harry writes about Haroon and gets involved with the household, so Haroon writes about Harry in an equally unflattering manner. None of the characters in this book are likeable and all are trying to play games with each other. Harry and Haroon are so similar and Kureishi seems to be trying to make a point about the literary society that both inhabit. However it becomes very laboured and whilst entertaining enough I don't think it is a book that will stay with me.
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on 1 April 2014
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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on 13 April 2015
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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on 15 June 2015
Something I rarely do - I gave up on this book half-way though simply because I could not find any interest in discovering what happened to these people in their self-obsessed lives.
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on 27 February 2014
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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on 27 December 2014
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 February 2014
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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VINE VOICEon 10 December 2014
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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