Apr/May 2015  •   Reviews & Interviews

A Theft: My Con Man

Review by Ann Skea

A Theft: My Con Man.
Hanif Kureishi.
Faber. 2015. 44 pp.
ISBN 978 0 571 32319 7.

The con man is the one who has the passport to your hopes, who touched the G-spot of your wishes.

Anyone who has had experience with a con man can understand this. The problem becomes an obsession and, just as Hanif Kureishi describes, it begins to rule your life and threaten your sanity.

As in a love affair, common sense plays no part. There is, as Kureishi says, a Freudian aspect to this—we undervalue reality and overvalue the desired object. In Kureishi's case, the desired object was the return of his entire savings, which his seemingly respectable and reliable accountant had stolen from him. And the focus of his love/hate was this accountant, Jeff Chandler, as he calls him.

Kureishi writes compellingly of the power of his delusion. The way in which he continued to believe this man. The way he liked him and felt sorry for his misfortunes. And the seemingly common power of hope over false belief. "Delusions are two-a-penny," he writes, but it takes a special kind of absurd commitment, akin to that of religious fanatics, to believe the plausible lies of a con man. What was there, he wondered, in his own psyche which had made him vulnerable?

Eventually the glamour started to wear off and Kureishi began to question his own sanity. Writing it out was his method of coming to terms with reality and abandoning false hopes: A way of stealing something back and creating something fresh and new from the whole experience. But still, giving up his addiction to Chandler proved difficult. Partly, it seems, because he had felt sorry for this man who seemed bowed down by his own personal and financial difficulties, but, fascinatingly, not by the pain and ruin he was causing to others.

Kureishi's creative self-therapy has involved examining his own background. He considers his "training" in self-delusion, which he attributes to family dynamics and to growing up in 1960s South London amongst "spivs and wide boys," youngsters forming bands, and chancers who always believed something good was bound to turn up. He looks at his own weaknesses, refers to our common fascination with crime and transgression, and finds excuses for Chandler then later repudiates them. It is clear that his love-hate relationship with the man is not completely vanquished.

This is a very short book, hardly more than a pamphlet, and it really is just an elaboration of the random thoughts he first began to jot down in an attempt to make sense of his obsession. There is a certain incoherence to these thoughts and an unfinished feeling to some of his observations, yet however misguided his view of Chandler as a true representative of our present financial world, the story Kureishi tells and the way he tells it is fascinating and thought-provoking.


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