Dodging the Literary Undertaker – Biographic Metafiction in Hanif Kureishi’s The Last Word

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Hanif Kureishi’s 2014 novel, The Last Word, involves most of the author’s idiosyncratic themes, such as ethnicity, racism, sexual identity, examination of interpersonal relationships and the crucial role of the creative imagination in human life. Its focal concern, however, is to explore the process of writing a literary biography of a living person and the character and dynamics of the relationship between the biographer and his subject - a writer. As such, the novel can be taken as being representative of biographic metafiction, a subcategory of historiographic metafiction, which, following the postmodernist questioning of our ability to know and textually represent historical truth, presents biographic writing critically or even mockingly, rendering its enthusiastic practitioners’ efforts with ironic scepticism. The aim of this article is to present The Last Word as a particular example of biographic metafiction that has all the crucial features of this genre, yet which differs from its predecessors through the complexity and thoroughness of its portrayal of the biographer-biographee relationship.

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