The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi
Part of me thinks I’ve read The Buddha of Suburbia, part of me doubts it very much, and a quiet part of me, which knows better, points out that it was probably White Teeth by Zadie Smith or the unending London Fields by Martin Amis. The comparison is all I’m looking for which is particularly unfair as I thoroughly enjoyed this book, far more than London Fields (still to be finished after several years) and White Teeth both of which feel a little exclusionary to those not ‘blessed’ enough to live near the capital of England.
The Black Album is the story of a somewhat naive and trusting soul who embarks, unwittingly, on a journey of discovery in which it comes to light that, of all the characters presented here, he is perhaps the best balanced and most well reasoned, if not the most rounded.
He is a young British Asian, taken in to a Muslim group whilst simultaneously embarking on an affair with an older married woman. He learns the ways of both worlds, of sex and debauchery, of fastidious religion and fanatical shortsightedness, all of which adds up to … well that’s the thing, I’m not entirely sure but so much the better to be honest.
The book covers many moral and semi-religious themes, from the bettering of oneself, the abandonment of morals and finally to the integrity of man. Large themes, yes, but all presented in an easy manner, sweeping you along as the story progresses. It’s a rich world this, veering from run down council estates and squalid student accomodation to the upper reaches of English society. Whilst perhaps a little too obvious in direction, the journey is enthralling and after a slow burn beginning you are soon turning pages, delaying dinner and generally grasping each moment you can to get to the next page, then the one after.