Friday, November 16, 2007

38. Gabriel's Gift - Hanif Kureishi

This was a quite a sweet, enjoyable story, short and quick to read. The novel starts as Gabriel's father, an aging has-been rock-and-roll bass player, is thrown out of the family home. Gabriel's mother goes out to find a job in a local bar, bringing home strange men and entrusting Gabriel to the care of a fat and ugly Eastern European refugee named Hannah. While confused and upset by the changes happening in his family, Gabriel also feels slightly comforted by the fact that he now more 'normal' - almost everyone he knows comes from a broken home.

Gabriel is an artist, and much of the story focusses on his preoccupation with creating - sketching, writing, photographing, and planning the film he wants to shoot. My favourite expression of this artistic talent occurs in passing as Gabriel and his father are invited to visit the lead singer of his dad's old band. Where Gabriel's father faded into obscurity, Lester went on to find David Bowie-style fame and fortune.

There was a deep hush in the hotel; the place was so stylish that there appeared to be nothing to disfigure the austerity of nothing piled on nothing, apart from - on an invisible shelf - a white vase containing a single white flower.
On reaching the lobby, Gabriel extracted an apple from his pocket, which he had taken from Lester's fruit bowl. He placed it on the floor in the middle of a ring of drab stones. The little patch of colour would cheer people up. He and his father passed into the crowd of photographers and fans stamping their feet in the cold. Gabriel turned to see several colourless figures scampering towards the anarchic apple.

Colour plays a big part in Gabriel's world, often used in startling ways to illustrate a point, such as in this description of the men Gabriel's father hangs out with at the local pub - a far cry from the glitz and glamour of the life he so nostalgically clings to.

The place was full of childish men from the post office and the local bus garage gazing up at the big TV screen. Dad's grey-faced mates were playing pool. They all looked the same to Gabriel with their roll-ups, pints and musty clothes. They rarely went out into the light, unless they stood outside the pub on a sunny day, and they were as likely to eat anything green, as they were to drink anything blue or wear anything pink.

When he is most troubled, Gabriel talks to his twin brother Archie, a twin who died of meningitis when he was two, but who has never been forgotten in the family. This upsets Gabriel's mum, but his dad is more understanding.

"By the way, what's this about you and Archie talking and stuff?"
Gabriel hesitated but said, "He's with me, Dad."
"Of course he is. He's with me too. That's where the kid should be, with his family."
"You talk to him?"
"Every day." Gabriel was relieved. Dad went on, "Don't tell Mum. It upsets her.

Despite their problems, Gabriel's parents are doing their best. However, in many ways, fifteen year old Gabriel is more adult than they are. He is a nice lad, and the story told from his point-of-view is entertaining. I particularly appreciated the happy ending!

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