Finished: “Midnight’s Children,” Salman Rushdie (#90)
I have a moderate cutaneous wool allergy, so 446 pages about Kashmir made me a bit itchy (thanks folks, I’ll be here all week!). No, but seriously, this book chafed me good. It was a belletristic black diamond; fraught with no fewer than 3-6 ellipses, 3-6 parenthetical clauses and double-digit hyphenations per page. My pace was noticeably handicapped by the choppy, rambling style; often I had to reread paragraphs to know what the hell was going on. Rushdie introduces tidbits of new background information and undefined proper nouns like a subcontinental, politically-inclined J.K. Rowling. The endless stream-of-consciousness perspective is hard to follow. Rushdie knows he’s long-winded too because he introduces a stand-in for the reader; a character (named Padma) who’s often pestering the writer-narrator to quit the incessant foreshadowing and get to the damn points. Rushdie uses the narrator-Padma dialogue to make sure the reader appreciates his masterwork; like the annoying friend that restates lines from a movie in real time. He also can’t seem to resist explaining his own symbolism and doing the legwork of connecting dots that the reader should be able to do themselves. Rushdie, I get it, you’re a visionary cultural genius, this is an oh-so-important book. Tell the damn story.
And like Harry ProductⓇ, “Midnight’s Children” employs tedious episodes of a bunch of kids with magic powers as a cheap metaphorical device. Well, that’s not really fair to either. The former is straight-up literal fluff, and the latter is, in all fairness, a very deep and multilayered historical fiction, and I suspect the telepathic elements reflect the distorted perspective of a narrator with dementia. But where he might have developed believable human characters, Rushdie opted for political metaphors and cluttered cultural sentimentality. I guess it was deep (?), but the major problem with this novel is that it isn’t a story with universal appeal. The characters are unlovable symbols. It’s a story about India, and it’s not written such that people of other cultures can empathize with the human struggles.
I have a hypothesis as to why this book made the top 100 list. It was a laborious euphemistic depiction of India coming into its own after independence from Britain in 1947 and subsequent partitioning. The Anglointellectualelitists behind Modern Library simply threw the subcontinent a bone. “Hey, you guys wanna throw in an India one since we kind of dominated them for a hundred years and caused the chaos Rushdie illustrates? It’s only one spot on the list, what the heck? Guys?” The story (maybe, but this point is debatable) warrants inclusion… but I can’t see how – people actually read this book and think – there was something new… and (powerful stylistically… but we’ll get to that later…) that commanded a spot in the elite oeuvre. (That’s how much of it read, BTW. Painful at best, solecistic at worst.) Maybe I’m just a know-nothing, ill-read, small-minded amateur who doesn’t get it. Or maybe this emperor’s junk is on full display…
P.S. Google Image search Rushdie’s wife. WTF? The man looks like Newman and Stanley Kubrick had a smug, pot smoking frog-son. Well played, Rushdie, well played.