But modesty of theme proves a good match for Kureishi’s unfussy intelligence and powers of compression. He also shows a gift for maximising the potential of almost any subject. The work reprinted here fulfils Kureishi’s own description of the essay as “an enjoyable, intimate and flexible form”, though the last of those adjectives seems the most apt. It’s fitting that near the beginning of the first item in the book, “Birdy Num-Num”, about the Indian characters portrayed by Peter Sellers in the films The Millionairess and The Party, Kureishi casually refers to having changed his mind twice, first turning against his youthful enjoyment, then deciding there might be something in it after all. Shifting and switching is what he does. You’re never quite sure where his essays will take you.
What Happened? serves as a postscript to Kureishi’s Collected Essays, published in 2011, which brought together the best of his journalism and nonfiction over the previous three decades. Many of the pieces here revisit similar themes and preoccupations, particularly around ideas of race, religion and cultural identity. ... There’s a deliberate, tongue-in-cheek self-satirising to the name-dropping, obviously, and the pieces collected here reflect Kureishi’s sharp eye for multiple perspectives born of his own experience, whether he is discussing Antigone, Freud or Mad Men. But perhaps most memorable are the few short stories scattered throughout, in particular She Said He Said, a portrait of two marriages and a shift in sexual politics, deftly captured in a few short pages with all the author’s customary comedy and sympathy.