I received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
Mamoon Azam is an Indian born British writer who is now in his seventies and living a quiet and unassuming life in the bucolic English countryside. Although he has produced many thought-provoking and award-winning books in his career, it has been several years since he has been relevant in the publishing world. Mamoon, his wife Liana and a major publishing house decide that a biography of the writer would be just the thing to make Mamoon important again as well as rich.
Harry Johnson, a struggling writer himself, is hired by the publisher to write a scintillating, scandalous and lascivious biography of Mamoon. The first half of the book is a hilarious satire not only of authors, but of everyone involved in the publishing industry. The old novelist is portrayed as an acrimonious, self-absorbed recluse who has not written anything worthwhile in years. Harry, Mamoon’s biographer, is a bottom-feeder in the publishing industry because he is trying to make a living by writing about another man’s career. Rob, the editor at the publishing company, is greedy for a tell-all biography which will unveil shocking and unseemly secrets about Mamoon’s life.
At a party given him by his overly emotional and needy wife, Mamoon is awkwardly asked to deliver an impromptu speech for his friends, family and fans. His remarks about writers and their role in the world of publishing is a sad, yet accurate commentary on what this industry has become: “These days a writer without bodyguards can hardly be considered serious. A bad review is the least of our problems. Every idiot believing any insanity has to be humored: it is their human right. The right to speech is always stolen, always provisional. I fear the game is almost up for truth. People don’t want it; it doesn’t help them get rich.”
The most interesting character in the novel is Harry himself who has a heavy load of emotional baggage over his paranoid, sex-crazed, suicidal mother. Harry has a fiancé but he cannot seem to stay faithful to her. His own life is a mess and in a state of crisis while he is chasing a reluctant, and at times recalcitrant, Mammon around his home trying to pry details out of the novelist about his life. Harry’s personal affairs are presented as a ridiculous farce and, much like the author whose life he is trying to capture, he has a tumultuous history of relationships with women.
Overall, THE LAST WORD is an entertaining and starkly vivid satire about what the state of the publishing world has become in the 21st century. Mamoon knows that he has an important life and career which ought to be documented, but at the same time he is running away from that very corrupt and profit-focused industry that is in charge of illustrating his life.
About The Author:
Kureishi was born in London to a Pakistani father and an English mother. His father, Rafiushan, was from a wealthy Madras family, most of whose members moved to Pakistan after the Partition of India in 1947. He came to Britain to study law but soon abandoned his studies. After meeting and marrying Kureishi’s mother Audrey, Rafiushan settled in Bromley, where Kureishi was born, and worked at the Pakistan Embassy.
Kureishi attended Bromley Technical High School where David Bowie had also been a pupil and after taking his A levels at a local sixth form college, he spent a year studying philosophy at Lancaster University before dropping out. Later he attended King’s College London and took a degree in philosophy. In 1985 he wrote My Beautiful Laundrette, a screenplay about a gay Pakistani-British boy growing up in 1980’s London for a film directed by Stephen Frears. It won the New York Film Critics Best Screenplay Award and an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay.