Hanif Kureishi, a man who counts not only fiction, but also screen and play writing amongst his repertoire, here turns his hand to personal reportage. A Theft reads as a confessional essay of sorts. Kureishi tells us of his own experience of having his savings stolen by his newly employed accountant, Jeff Chandler.
Chandler appears immediately to be a respectable and principled man. He is a devout Christian, who is also regarded as a “pillar of the community” and, as such, is also trusted to manage his local church’s accounts – which, however, he also eventually takes. He is always available to respond to any questions Kureishi may have – except, of course, on a Sunday. Between that, and a friend’s recommendation, it does not take much for Chandler to earn Kureishi’s trust. The allure is that if Kureishi gives his savings over to Chandler they will accrue interest: a win/win for both parties.
Those familiar with at least some of Kureishi’s previous works will immediately feel at home with his deft – and often cuttingly direct – technique of navigating the complexities of human desires and needs. He calls upon Freud early on in attempts to frame what he experiences:
[…] for various reasons, many of them masochistic, we become involved with others who cannot possibly give us what we ask for; we can wait as long as we wish, but they do not have it, and one day, if we can bear to abandon our fantasy and see clearly, we might face reality straight on. We will then look elsewhere for fulfillment, to a place where our needs can, in fact, be satisfied.
Kureishi is candid in outlining his needs – “deception was a medicine I required urgently’’. Chandler, after emptying both Kureishi’s savings and building society investments by obscenely imitating the latter’s signature, becomes a cipher, and it is that air of mystery after which Kureishi seems to lust. It romanticises the crime for Kureishi. The emotional patterns and behaviour are further muddied by his neediness for Chandler, calling him daily for updates in attempts to recover his loss. The writing is punchy and leaves little to the imagination; but by the same token, it is not hard to imagine that having your savings emptied is devastating. Certainly, Kureishi is brave to expose himself so openly, but the effects are not written with enough force to resonate with any depth.
The potential impact of this story, is diluted by the small size of the book itself. Particularly as the narrative reaches its conclusion, it feels as if 44 pages is an awfully tight space to cover the complex issues that Kureshi alludes to. He is clearly very capable of creating an impactful stir, as is the case in the polarising Intimacy. The very “elsewhere” he talks of in Freudian theory is revealed to be the act of writing, his art, the place where his needs can be satisfied. Why Kureishi opts to exorcise the demonic clutches in which Chandler held him in the all too brief way he does is surely difficult to understand: “I thought: I should steal from him. If I stole something back from this devil and homunculus, I could transform and remake him, pinning him to the page.” Whilst Kureishi is a well-versed writer, there is an underlying feeling that this should have been expanded into something more worthy of his readers’ time.
A Theft is an admirable effort, but one I was at a loss as to what to do with afterwards. Kureishi recently released Love + Hate, a collection of short stories and essays wherein A Theft is included. A volume such as that feels a much more worthy home for this short piece.