Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fin de siècle.

The French, they say, always have a propensity to put across things rather stylishly. Literally speaking, “fin de siècle” means “end of the century”. The phrase contains a hint of a suggestion, though, of the end of an era and the onset of the coming one as well as of a time of degeneration and a time of new beginning. In a broader and worldlier context, it connotes a sinister mixture of decadence and opulence. All of which sounds a mouthful and bombastic and pretentious. Reading Hanif Kureshi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (Faber and Faber, London, 1990) is one entertaining way to get an insider’s view of a fin de siècle. The Whitbread Prize winning novel is set in a decaying London just before the onset of Thatcherism when Britain was said to have become totally "ungovernable”. The protagonist, Karim Amir, a second-generation British-Indian, is the bi-sexual son of the Buddha of Suburbia, Haroon ("Harry") Amir, who had emigrated from India in the late fifties or early sixties. Pop music in the times of the Punk Rock supremacy, theatre, art, deceit, fast-changing sexual mores, race relations, fake gurus, social climbing and “moving away” from the decaying suburbs are what The Buddha of Suburbia deals with in an often farcical vein.