Review: The Last Word

Hanif Kureishi’s The Last Word follows an aspiring writer, Harry Johnson, who’s commissioned to write a biography of (fictional) literary giant Mamoon Azam. His publisher hopes for sensational, warts-and-all stuff; Mamoon, and particularly his wife Liana, expect something a little more…hagiographic. How will young Harry negotiate these pressures, his own desire for literary fame, and his inability to keep it in his pants?

I don’t want to write much about The Last Word because its relentless sexism infuriated me, and I’m no longer willing to give litfic writers a pass on using grossly caricatured female characters as paths to fulfilment, prizes or random sex toys for their deeply characterised male protagonists. An actual quote from the book:

My [Harry’s] mother died. I needed female attention.


Like, I understand that Satire is happening here, but it’s not funny and I’m bored of it.

The worst thing is, it’s all so mundane. I don’t care about yet more middle-class, entitled men being shitty to people. I’m bored of self-consciously “literary” novels that are only interested in a narrow segment of human experience – a segment that valorises patriarchal modes of authorship, artistic influence and romance (if we can call anything that anyone does in this novel “romance”, which I’m not at all sure of). It’s been done. So many times. Can we just not, any more?

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