Book, Film: Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of SuburbiaPosted: October 25, 2011
That awkward moment when you realise that the book you have been raving about for weeks is, in fact, an atrocity
I really liked The Buddha of Suburbia, until I watched My Beautiful Laundrette. The book was so witty, the dialogue so sharp, and the characters literally jumped off the page. It evoked London in the 70’s as it probably never was, but in such a vivid manner that you suddenly felt like you knew the era just a little bit more. Each sentence was intensely satisfying, not only due to the inordinate amount of explicit sex scenes, but also because of an inexpressible, easy charm with which it flowed. There’s even a David Bowie album named after it. I came to it relatively late at the age of 23, but I read it with the enthusiasm of a sixteen-year-old. I laughed out loud on the Tube. I talked about it with my friends, I recommended it to them, I lent it to people. The next step was seeing the film that made Hanif Kureishi famous.
So I watched it. For the first third of the film I was hooked, recognising the charismatic style and energetic momentum of the book. The plot and characters were pretty much the same. And then I realised my terrible mistake. Maybe it was the appalling acting, maybe it was that, the second time round, the magic was gone. The characters were not only irritating, as I had ascertained within five pages of the book, but they were the worst people in the world. Shallow, awful, borderline unwatchable. Why was this happening?
I had been publically professing my love for the author of this atrocity? What a faux pas. I haven’t gone back to the book to reassess my opinion, and I have no wish to. Perhaps it really was great, but with the benefit of hindsight, I now realise that all the flaws of the film were there, partly cloaked by the veneer of humour. Is it ever acceptable to judge a book by its film? Am I wrong? Was I right? This will be a mystery forever, because I’m never going near Mr Kureishi again.