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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

BooksJanuary 21, 2023

The extraordinary Twitter diary of Hanif Kureishi

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Hanif Kureishi is currently in hospital undergoing extensive treatment after a serious accident, chronicling the experience in a series of tremendously vivid tweets. Books editor Claire Mabey has been hanging on his every word.

On the 7th of January, the acclaimed British writer Hanif Kureishi told his Twitter followers that he’d had a terrible fall while out walking in Rome on Boxing Day and was now in hospital, unsure if he’d ever walk or write again.

His tweets in the days since (composed, we understand, using voice recognition technology and the help of his wife Isabella) deliver a modern-day diary of his recovery relayed in real-time to readers all over the world, who are captivated by the expansive nature of his thoughts and experiences. And I’m one of them.

Each morning I go straight to Kureishi’s account to read the latest and marvel at his eloquence, honesty and insights. The responses, too, are heart-warming messages of support and wishes from strangers spread across the globe, which have, if you manage to stay in that lane, restored some concept of Twitter being capable of providing a realm for community and a source of solidarity.

Herewith are a selection of Kureishi’s tweets, accompanied by a close reading of the literary kind, because the acclaimed author is a master of the evocative, vivid paragraph.

The beginning. Entirely arresting, ending on a cliffhanger.

Had to look up Mo Salah (am books editor not sports editor for a reason). Am struck by the irony of the image of legendary Liverpool player working his athletic magic just before such a catastrophic physical accident. Startling imagery: the blood; the work of the word grotesque which always calls forth the fascinating worst; wife on knees (the wrenching gesture of the aghast, the horrified, the helpless). The uncanny hand – talons scuttling!

Three breaths! I am so curious about this three, why three? Apparently in Christian belief God gave three breaths of life. Probably unrelated, but evocative trifecta all the same. The short sentences. So well paced. Something is very wrong.

Beautiful use of the list device in that top tweet: the domestic felicities laid bare. The beautiful simplicity and the awful apprehension of the loss of normalised daily routine. Then the rush of facts: the relief that his wife (Isabella d’Amico) was there. The short, blunt sentences, the devastation of that final statement. 

The image that speaks a thousand small comforts: he puts pens in pots! Just like me! He has rude gnomes and piles of random little guys, photos, and paraphernalia in front of the books (classic bibliophile behaviour, treating shelves like shrines to our chaotic inner lives). I hope he gets back there, and soon. To the familiarity of his idiosyncrasies. 

A fragment drawing on the ancient symbology of the forest: the shadow selves, our beasts, the surprises. Also a shade of Bob Dylan? Like a rolling stone, no direction home. Have to listen to that now it’s totally apt. A plaintive, moving cry into the forests of the internet and those who wait there, listening.

I love this idea of wandering through books as self-communing. Allowing your body to pick up books seemingly at random: searching for things by instinct, raven-like. Again the pining for the familiar study: the bookshelves. Objects really do come into their own when we are physically removed from our places of comfort. 

Giorgia Meloni is the current Italian prime minister and the first woman in Italian history to hold the position. Resonates closely with Hanif’s Aotearoa readers, especially now. The image of the doctor entering with not only the medical expertise but also with the wide-ranging conversation, feeding his patient intellectually and spiritually as much as anything else. Note to self: read more Proust, he shows up a lot in times of crisis.

The contrast in these two tweets! The terrible reminder that Hanif cannot use his hands. Did he burn his tongue? It’s hard to modulate temperature when sucking hot milk through a straw. Then comes the brilliant comedy of an Italian offended by the barbaric habits of most of the rest of the world. The ending “it would be like putting jam on pasta, he said.” Chef’s kiss.

Another reminder of the severity of Hanif’s accident. The fluidity and vivacity of this Twitter diary at times belies the traumatic physical reality. But here just the simple “first time I’ve worn clothes since my accident” punctuated by the additional detail “I am even wearing shoes.” Is this hope? Hope for the movement of limbs? Please! The second tweet reads almost like science-fiction: a machine that lifts, giving the patient the sensation of weightlessness! The machine sounds kind (“places me nicely”).

Hope! Movement! I’m suddenly conscious of my own limbs, look down at my feet with gratitude. Thank you for carrying me so well. Brilliant physio! That final line, almost childlike, brings tears.

Comedy and filth! We are levelling up. Is this a sign of improvement? To be able to go forth with such humour? To remember a time of hedonism and energy and lust? Love the “huge Dutch bicycle” detail and allure of a woman in charge of her desire.

GOLD! While in Amsterdam … but that second tweet. Isabella: what does your face say? I’m imagining an indulgent smile?

Firstly I’m not sure the old life was dull but what a provocation. Immediately begin to wonder if I have become lazy. And, how long has it been since I made a new friend that I liked and who liked me? Does it always take catastrophe to renew curiosity in life and people?

Have to confess here that I’ve never been a huge Dickens fan because of the long boring bits. There’s that word grotesque again. God it’s a good one. Note to self: read more Chekhov, particularly “A Boring Story”.

I did not see that coming. This thread of tweets is so hard somehow but utterly transfixing. An exploration of the writer’s mother and the excavation of her character. “Where nothing was alive or could flourish.” OOOFFFF. Note to self: ensure you enable your son to flourish so that he never tweets about how boring you are. You’ll fuck it up but fuck it up in an interesting, not boring way.

Hanif, it is more than interesting. This twitter diary is potent, beautiful, surprising. A reminder of the soaring persistence of the mind. The creative potential of catastrophe. We wish you so very well, the speediest of recoveries, and look forward to the next instalments and your return to full health.

You can read some of these tweets transcribed into epistles on Hanif Kureishi’s Substack

Keep going!