SPRING BOOK BONANZA
in this stuff.‘
Kureishi‘s portraits of Asians do not present the bland, ‘positive‘ images which some people would like. In Sammy and Rosie. Sammy's father. beautifully played by Shashi Kapoor. is a corrupt snob. In The Buddha ofSuburbia. the Asian patriarchy is held up to scorn in the selfish stupidity of Karim‘s Uncle Anwar. Reactions have been predictable. ‘Why oh why,‘ he quotes from a letter from his aunt, ‘do you have to promote the widely held view of the British that all evil stems from Pakistani immigration? Thank goodness for top quality films like Ghandi.‘
’All of that stuff.‘ says Kureishi. ‘it‘s all bollocks. It‘s all said to you by people who don‘t know anything about writing. You can‘t sit down and say. Right. now I'm going to do something really positive. You can only write from feelings. I don‘t really care what people say.’
‘That Asian people are portrayed at all on the telly or in films is still quite a rare thing. And people may have strange ideas about Asian people. I suppose. Even stranger since some people have started to burn books and read aubergines. They talk about me presenting positive or negative images. and these people are reading aubergines?‘
The thing that people forget to say about Kureishi is how entertaining he is. Getting across worthy messages about the inhuman values of the 805 is all very well. but doing it in such a way as to catch the attention ofa significant percentage ofthe population is quite a different proposition. ’It‘s wonderful the audience you get for a film. especially when it goes out on telly and there are five million people watching. Ifyou write a book and sell 400 copies in hardback, you‘re a bestseller. But it‘s what I wanted to do.’
Not surprisingly. perhaps, Kureishi does not claim great literary antecedents. ‘My hero in the whole history of the whole world is Miles Davis. A musician who‘s changed music five or six times and who never plays Round Midnight. He’s moved on in time. He's still alive. And I admire that more than anything.‘ Next on Kureishi‘s schedule is a film called London Kills Me which, he says rather hesitantly, he intends to direct himself. ’1‘“ try. and ifI fail I’ll go back and do another novel. I think the main thing is not to be afraid offailing, making a fool of yourself. Once you play it safe you’re fucked. You turn into John Mortimer.‘
The Buddha ofSuburbia by Hanif K ureishi is published by Faber priced £12.99.
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Anne Fine was not sure that she would
be available for interview on the day that I suggested; she had promised to take her daughterto see Sex, Lies and Videotape. Oulte unreasonably, Iwas shocked. Clearly this was no brisk and tweedy Enid Biyton writing adventure stories tor bubbly-nosed children, I thought, as I sat down to read ‘Goggle-Eyes’.
The book, winner at this year’s Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, traces the bitter battle waged by narrator Kitty Killen against her mother’s most unwelcome new boyirlend, cruelly nicknamed Goggle-Eyes.
Down-to-earth and middle-aged, Goggle-Eyes nags Kitty about turning lights oil and helping out with housework. He takes her mother out on nights set aside lor helping little sister Jude with her model Roman amphitheatre. Worst at all, he disapproves oi the iamlly’s anti-nuclear stance. But when Kitty’s mother is arrested at a demonstration and Goggle-Eyes is left in charge tor a night, Kitty begins to change her mind about him.
In this, as In her other books, Anne Flne’s treatment at children is anything but indulgent: ‘People seriously underestimate children’, she says. ‘I believe that children’s emotions are as real and as powerful as adults’ emotions. As real, powerlul, iorcelul and as unpleasant. They too have to cope with iamily problems and domestic upheaval. Kitty no longer ieels at home In her own house. She can’t even stand hearing the cistern llushlng alter Goggle-Eyes goes to the lavatory. A lot 01 children are in that position; they simply can't relax ii there Is someone who Is not a member at the lamin In the house.’
But ‘Goggle-Eyes’ Is not intended to be a guide or a consolation for such children: ‘It would give me enormous pleasure to think that a child In that position might read the book and teel comiort, but that’s not the reason Ior writing it. I try to write intensely readable novels. I’ve just chosen this subject because It’s there.’
In jeans and trainers, Anne Fine even looks appealineg youthiul. Children, or rather childhood, is something that she thinks about a great deal. Even her adult characters (notably in her novel
toradults, ‘T through events in their childhood. Her idea —and she applies this in her own liie— is that to understand an adult, one must at least have glimpsed the child that he or she has been. ‘Childhood is crucial. it makes you. Understanding a child is what I’m interested in.’
I suggest that Kitty is possessed at a maturity and sense 01 responsibility which some might judge a tritle inappropriate in one of such tender years (she’s about tourteen). She sits on a committee which organises anti-nuclear protests and can deiend her political views quite as eloquently as your average MP. Might she not over-awe some readers? ‘Kitty is active because she’s worried. But she knows that there is something she can do. She's at the youngest possible age at which people can be politically active. I suppose what Kitty’s doing might prod children into thinking that they too have a civic duty.
‘On the other hand, I am very wary at some oi the books tor children which describe in graphic detail a world on the brink oi destruction. Some children might despair, or become too cynical. I am very much aware oi the dangers oi being too bleak.’
Does this mean that there is an extra responsibility involved in writing lor children? ‘This is a problem. When you’re writing tor adults you’re allowed to describe the world as it really is because it is assumed that people’s viewing is settled. You can rant and rave as much as you want. In children’s literature there is a pressure to describe things as they ought to be. You end up wondering lI you’re writing a good novel or doing some quiet social engineering. For instance, it's about ten years since I last put a man who couldn’t cook in a book.’
To his credit, Goggle-Eyes can cook and wash up and, as Kitty soon recognises, he is is also kind and considerate. Anne Fine may tackle some hefty problems in ‘GoggIe-Eyes’ but she also irons them out realistically, reassurineg and very humorously. ‘Obvlouslythe most important thing about books is that they take you out 01 yourseli’, she says. ‘I like reading books more than anything In the world.’ (Miranda France) Goggle-Eyes is published by Hamish Hamilton at £7.99)
78 The List 20 April — 3 May 1990