Waldo, like Kureishi, is wholly unsentimental; he fantasises about revenge in language a Shakespearean hero — or a bragging rapper — might use … Part of the pleasure of The Nothing is not knowing whether Waldo is victim or sadist. Is he playing others or will he get played? … Admirers of his earlier fiction will be happy to learn that his appetite for sexual riffs, describing sucking and rimming, or anatomising ‘the humiliation of desire’ has not abated.
The book is a little like one of those fake knots that, once pulled, turn out to be just a piece of string … Even paranoiacs can be plotted against, of course, but there’s a word for the kind of writing in which too neat a sense of reality is made to line up with loamy sexual fantasy: pornography. I suspect Kureishi knows this. That pre-emptive shrug of a title almost defies us to take his book seriously … Whether you enjoy this book is very much down to how much of a jolt you can get from its epigrams, most of them loitering in the 25-watt range...All of which have the requisite cynical snarl but collapse at the gentlest inquiry.
The Nothing is a mere 167 pages long, but it cooks up complications, intrigues, and tangled personal histories worthy of a much longer book. It also manages to capture the last gasp of a generation that doesn’t exactly have a reputation for aging gracefully … The women in the picture, Zee and Anita, serve more as plot conveniences, although Zee’s weariness at being Waldo’s caretaker is certainly persuasive. The biggest draw in The Nothing (the title alludes both to Eddie’s character and Waldo’s impending death) is the comic hyperbole of its crazed, manipulative, self-deprecating narrator. Add to that several Roget’s-worthy one-liners (‘a saint is only someone who has been under-researched’), and you have one wickedly seductive gut-punch of a book.
The Nothing, Kureishi’s latest, is a strange performance: a mound of words presented to us as a novel, a situation passing as a story … Kureishi’s book is sour and shallow; it’s over before it begins. Waldo stalks and plots, fights listlessly with his wife. There’s none of the amplitude, the imaginative energy of his best work or even the interesting surliness of his more mediocre efforts.
The story is sodden with soap-opera turns (slaps to the face, a scheme to gather enemies in one place), but the book thrives on Waldo’s voice, electric with resentment … It’s hard to love a character so sour, but a man with nothing to lose who’s turned resentment into an art form is hard to turn your eyes away from. A short, spiky meditation on mortality delivered with nihilistic glee.
There is not a decent soul or breath of fresh air within these pages; Kureishi rises fiendishly to the challenge of creating disagreeable characters, and true to form indulges in bald, unrelenting talk of sex acts and sex organs. There’s a bit of tormented Hamlet in Waldo, but little philosophy or meat in this wicked little revenge tale.