Eternal youth has always been the holy grail of aging hedonists, whether vampires, religious cultists, or rock ‘n’ roll stars. What wouldn’t they—we—give to have our gonads ceaselessly re-charged? Yet to be perpetually young could mean being trapped in a clueless, callow state. Adam, the successful middle-aged playwright protagonist of Hanif Kureishi’s novel The Body, discovers the solution serendipitously. Hold on to your brain, but trade in your decrepit machine for a “Newbody.”
Through underground contacts with an acquaintance who has literally reincorporated himself, Adam has his brain—sharp, humorous, worldly—implanted in the 25-year-old physique of a recently deceased Alain Delon look-alike endowed with a “fine, thick penis.” His own body is mothballed, to be reclaimed when his six-month “lease” runs out. The new Adam sets out on a sexual odyssey through Europe, exploring the joys—and limitations—of being the object of desire. That his fleshly feasts and feats are pointless is exactly the point: to allow old mind and new body the prerogatives of youth and live for the moment. He winds up doing odd jobs at a New Age women’s spiritual center in Greece, where he’s lusted after by the residents.
Kureishi displays his trademark dark wit and empathy for human vulnerability, with allusions to Frankenstein and reincarnation. But regrettably, he opts for a sci-fi endgame, with its Dickian hints. Adam becomes the target of a fabulously wealthy man—a Newbody too—who wants Adam’s body for his brother. The book deteriorates into a creaky chase scenario and in so doing mimics the travails of an aging corpus that remembers what it once could deliver but now can’t quite keep it up.