Monday, September 15, 2008

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi (Penguin Books 1990)

I soon realized that Eleanor's main guardian and my main rival for her affection was man called Heater. He was the local roadsweeper, a grossly fat and ugly sixteen-stone Scot in a donkey jacket whom Eleanor had taken up three years ago as a cause. He came round every night he wasn't at the theatre, and sat in the flat reading Balzac in translation and giving his bitter and big-mouthed opinion on the latest production of Lear or the Ring. He knew dozens of actors, especially the left-wing ones, of whom there plenty at this political time. Heater was the only working-class person most of them had met, So he became a symbol of the masses, and consequently received tickets to first nights and to the parties afterwards, having a busier social life than Cecil Beaton. He even popped in to dress rehearsals to give his opinion as 'a man in the street'. If you didn't adore Heater - and I hated every repulsive inch of him - and listen to him as the authentic voice of the proletariat, it was easy, if you were middle class (which meant you were born a criminal, having fallen at birth), to be seen by the comrades and their sympathizers as a snob, an elitist, a hypocrite, a proto-Goebbels.

I found myself competing with Heater for Eleanor's love. If I sat too close to her he glared at me; if I touched her casually his eyes would dilate and flare like gas rings. His purpose in life was to ensure Eleanor's happiness, which was harder work than roadsweeping, since she disliked herself so intensely. Yes, Eleanor loathed herself and yet required praise, which she then never believed. But she reported it to me, saying, 'D'you know what so-and-so said this morning? He said, when he held me, that he loved the smell of me, he loved my skin and the way I made him laugh.'

When I discussed this aspect of Eleanor with my adviser, Jamilla, she didn't let me down. 'Christ, Creamy Fire Eater, you one hundred per cent total prat, that's exactly what they're like, these people, actresses and such-like vain fools. The world burns and they comb their eyebrows. Or they try and put the burning world on the stage. It never occurs to them to dowse the flames. What are you getting into?'

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