Friday, July 11, 2008

rushdie in the guardian

There's a good interview with Salman Rushdie over on the Guardian site today; it's easy to forget, given how disappointing his post-Moor's Last Sigh books have been, how incendiary his 1980s novels really were; Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses are wonderful - and, as he is at pains to point out in the interview - incredibly funny books. His new book is out but I dunno if I'll read it. Here's a quick break down of my recent form with his stuff:

The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) - started, not finished.
Fury (2001) - started, not finished.
Shalimar the Clown (2005) - started, not finished.

Not sure how long I can keep going with this...

But anyway, Midnight's Children is a truly brilliant book, which is why it's won this Best of the Booker malarkey. Although I can't work out exactly what that means, or why it is worth mentioning. Anyway, Rushdie is good on describing what he was trying to do with Midnight's Children, how he felt it necessary to move away from the very cool, detached EM Forster-derived prose of Anita Desai and Narayan. As he points out:

"[India] wasn't cool, it was hot. It's a country where, even if you're in a rural area, you're never alone. I wanted to write the literary equivalent of a crowd. So it was a trick, a deliberate attempt to have too much incident so that you feel pushed this way and that, as if you're in a crowd."
He expressed pleasure that Midnight's Children has lasted and spanned the generations, admitting to a fear that "it might just be a topical book about the birth of India and that it wouldn't endure. The problem of telling contemporary history is that your message gets outdated."

I'm reminded of his observation in The Satantic Verses, that:

"The history of life was not the bumbling progress--the very English, middle-class progress--Victorian thought had wanted it to be, but violent, a thing of dramatic, cumulative transformations: in the old formulation, more revolution than evolution."
And in his hands, a potent subject for comedy too. Which brings us back to the the part of the interview I mentioned above:
Rushdie jokes about the fatwa with the audience at Temple Judea during his warm-up routine. "I don't want to dispute with Ayatollah Khomeini, but I will point out that only one of us is dead. That thing they say about the pen being mightier than the sword? Don't mess with novelists."

How can Rushdie joke about the fatwa, I ask him? "Well, because what happened to me was not funny it was assumed that I'm not funny. From some of the circumstances of the attack, it was assumed that because the criticisms of my book were arcane and theological, my work must be arcane and theologicial. So there is a point to joking: to show that I was misrepresented during the fatwa period. I am funny, and so are my books!"
You can read the rest here.

If anyone wants to counter my predictable assessment of Rushdie's later works, or offer an opinion on the new one, I'd be very glad to hear your thoughts.


oldoldfashioned said...

it's funny that you post about this, as I just lately thought about finally getting around to reading some Rushdie: I saw The Culture Show a few weeks ago, where people judged the Booker nominations, and Midnight's Children came high in their judgements. I am currently reading a Margaret Atwood novel (which doesn't thrill me much, but I hate not finishing a novel!) but once I am finished I plan to begin Midnight's Children straight away, especially following your praise.

Andrew Brown said...

I'm with you that the later work isn't as strong. I too found better things to do about halfway through Fury and haven't returned.

The early stuff, Shame, Midnight's Children and Satanic Verses are brilliant though.

Sean said...

Nice Post, but i respectfully disagree. I think Midnight's Children is really just a
retelling of the Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. Competent, but not brilliant