When I first read The Buddha of Suburbia back in 1999, I was the same age as the main protagonist, Karim and like him I felt that the world was changing around me. It was also a time when some interesting music was coming out (namely The Beta Band , Blur also released the mighty epic and weird 13 , The Flaming Lips swept up the world with majestic pomp and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy recorded one of the greatest alt country albums ever). I was going into adulthood yet with a bit of teenager left in me.
Kerim is an Anglo-Indian and as he is reaching adulthood, his world is changing too. Punk is stomping away progressive rock, his father takes up Buddhism (he is the Buddha of the book’s title) and moves in with his mistress. His closest friend Jamila is forced to marry a man against her wishes and he decides to drop out of university in order to become an actor. Not to mention the sub themes of racism and cultural differences.
I felt that the book is about Kerim trying to establish an identity. Yet his surroundings are both being accepted and rejected by him. There are many times when he wonders about whether he is Indian or English and he does try to gain identity by experimenting with drugs, inter-racial relationships and even his budding acting career.
Although Kerim’s world never disintegrates , it is constantly evolving and he feels that in order to keep up he must fully immerse himself into this malestorm of warped relationships.
Did I like the novel a second time round? Well to be honest, no. I found that there were way too many pop culture references and (like Zadie Smith) Kureishi’s writing can be very clunky and stodgy. A lot of people have called this book funny but I couldn’t see any humour – just these deft brushes of irony. There are some great moments but there are dull ones as well. However though it’s themes and characters are so strong that you have to just keep on reading in order to see how Kerim copes with his life.
Not bad, not wow – any other opinions out there?