Fiction & Biography

HARI KUNZRU gobsmacked bookworms when he nailed a £1.25m deal for his first novel. Now he tells Brian Donaldson about his latest offering a ‘geeklit’ story.

ave you heard the one

about the Bollywood star.

the computer virus and the Scottish Highlands? If you have. then you’re probably aware of Hari Kunzru’s second book. Transmission. For those who regularly browse the literary gossip columns. this special K was the travel writer and computer journalist who received a vast wad for his first publication (£1.25m at the last report). only to be flooded under a torrent of hype. counter- hype. mixed reviews and award shortlists. He was even in the position of forcing a moral stand of redirecting the prize money from a Daily Mail-sponsored book prize to the Refugee Council. having been disgusted at that paper’s views on the asylum issue.

Still, for 34-year-old Essex boy Kunzru. that difficult second album/film/book syndrome can be seen as more of a creative calm after the silly season storm of his debut. The Impressirmis!. ‘l was a publishing industry story so people were writing about me rather than the book.‘ recalls Kunzru of those heady days of 2002. ‘I did my best plugging away and blocking people's questions. turning them round to talk about the work but it was hard.‘

But through all the critical brickbats and cashflow ‘woes’. on the scary stakes. nothing compares to the week he had in late September 2()()l. trapped in the US. unable to get a flight the hell out of there. 'I was never in any real danger but it was disturbing how the people were reacting with internal flights being stopped because passengers were refusing to fly with other passengers.‘ recalls Kunzru of those hellish days of 2001. ‘The security was in chaos because they still had these minimum wage private company people doing all the frisking and at that time US airports were just like getting on the bus. People were in a flap and I was the man of your worst nightmare getting on your plane.‘

On safer ground now. Kunzru has created Transmission. another multi- narrative with multi-faceted characters. which weaves and winds its way to an inter-connected revelatory climax. So. we have a Bollywood star. Leela Zahir. on the verge of nervous breakdown with filmic commitments in the Highlands. Worse. she is the object of a computer virus that is chewing up the systems of companies across the globe. ()ne of which is Tomorrow“. the marketing agency of Guy Swift. a repellent sleazebag with a long-suffering girlfriend and a staff on the edge. But who is the vile body who has flung this nasty attachment into the cyberworld‘.’ How about a

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virginal 23-year-old computer geek Arjun Mchta. who has just been sacked from a Silicon Valley anti- virus company: all he wanted was to get his job back. so triggering a small scale problem for which he would be recalled to his station would be the answer. Global devastation wasn‘t on his agenda.

Though Kunzru was recently congratulated by one reviewer for heading up a revolution in ‘geeklit‘ ('I‘ll take my “ism” where I can get it‘). his nerdy aspirations quickly pale into insignificance. ‘When I‘m with my true geek friends. I wouldn‘t claim any status at all.‘ he chuckles. “The book is a product of much research; I got in touch with anti-virus companies and had highly monitored conference call conversations with PR people on the line who would jump in when I asked an engineer a question about trade secrets. I have friends who are quite close to the virus-wiping underground and I ran all those passages by them and had some technical mistakes ironed out. I managed to get the vibe without having to buy drinks for German teenagers.’ Lucky that.

Transmission is out now, published by Hamish Hamilton.

Debutants under the microscope This issue Erica Munro.

Who she? This spanking new novelist hails from the Black Isle. where she set up and ran one of the first home search agencies in the Highlands. When not nosing around other people's houses. the mother-of-three does most of her writing at her in-laws' London flat.

Her debut Inspired by the work of that literary genius George Michael, Guilty Feet is the latest candy- covered paperback to have gushed forth from the so—called chick-lit sub-genre. It's the tumultuous story of gallus Highland wife and mother- of-two Gail, whose life revolves around kids' tea parties. Scottish country dancing and surreal mothers’ meetings. Gail's domestic routine is sent skew-whiff when she renews her acquaintance with childhood sweetheart Stevie. and starts contemplating a bit of extra- marital how's-yer-father. Her guilt abates, however. when she begins to suspect that her husband Stuart is himself having a wee affair.

What the critics said The High Priestess of Tartan comic fiction, lsla Dewar, has called Munro's debut: ‘a lovely irreverent look at life, love and longing; very enjoyable.‘

High praise indeed . . . While a little let down by some eye- wateringly stereotypical characters (mincing gay dance instructor. Mr Perfect bit-on-the-side. snooty wannabe neighbour) Munro‘s debut is delivered in an inoffensive. chatty style. with the odd sharp-eyed observation and some entertaining turn of phrase.

First line test ‘It was when Esther Smith (Magnus, two and a half) advocated war in the south of England to reduce overcrowding on the roads that I realised there was more to her than met the eye.‘ (Allan Radcliffe)

I Guilty Feet is out now, published by Piatkus.

Munro bags her debut