Review

There's something compelling and repulsive in The Nothing

"One night, when I am old, sick, right out of semen and don't need things to get any worse, I hear the noises again. I am sure they are making love in Zenab's bedroom which is next to mine," observes the geriatric Waldo.

In his opening lines, Hanif Kureishi sums up both the mood and plot in his latest novella, The Nothing.

The tale, told from protagonist Waldo's point of view, is straightforward. The erstwhile film-maker suspects an affair between his wife Zenab, 22 years his junior, and his friend Eddie, a down-and-out movie critic.

Wheelchair-using Waldo is incontinent and plagued with ailments such as diabetes and prostate cancer, but he is determined to have his revenge.

In him, Kureishi has created a character both compelling and repulsive and The Nothing has the same effect on the reader.

Despite his age, Waldo has one foot firmly in the present, delivering bon mots for the Internet age. "Narcissism is our religion. The selfie stick is our cross, and we must carry it everywhere," he deadpans.

  • FICTION

  • THE NOTHING

    By Hanif Kureishi

    Faber and Faber/ Hardback/ 167 pages/$33.12/ Books Kinokuniya

    3/5 stars

Other times, his single-mindedness and brand of revenge are discomfiting.

"First I will smite with madness, blindness and impotence... then I will urinate in his mouth and wipe my a** with his head."

Kureishi, who has more than 30 written works, including novels, plays and essays, to his name, employs his oft-feted brand of dark humour in the bawdy, lubricious dialogue, although many times it veers closer to discomfort and further from humour.

Still, who can blame a dying man for bouts of indulgence? Behind Waldo's surliness are the universal fears of loneliness and losing one's place in the world, fears made more stark by his impending curtain call.

"Why would I want to carry on living alone and unloved?" he asks.

Perhaps his rage and vengeance are disquieting because we recognise that, one day, they might hit home. Until then, Kureishi lets us decide if Waldo is a depraved old sod or a romantic at heart. Perhaps he has become both and, in time, so will we.

If you liked this, read: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami (Vintage, 2017, $31.16, Books Kinokuniya), a collection of short stories about men who find themselves alone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2017, with the headline 'There's something compelling and repulsive in The Nothing'. Print Edition | Subscribe