We have all been cornered by an associate or an uncle who runs on and on with stories within opinions within anecdotes within other stories. Ah, those unforgettable hours of being unable to break into the convoluted soliloquy and instead sit anxiously waiting for the point of the tale: it’s not that the individual stories are uninteresting (even if you have heard them several times before) but rather that the endless drone begins to make a stint at the Château d’If seem preferable.
But the subject is the narrative style of Salman Rushdie.
I have only read a few Rushdie novels and I found them slightly less convoluted and self-agrandizing than the novels of Umberto Eco. I found The Ground Beneath Her Feet embarrassingly stupid. Other novels have been interesting and upon completing them gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment and relief. Midnight’s Children was truly good but also a prime example of ‘kitchen sink’ narrative. Actually, I have found several novelists from the Indian sub-continent who apparently were incapable of editing their own writing but considered it important to regurgitate everything that popped into their minds during the writing process. Many readers like this encyclopedic approach to fiction but I feel it lacks focus and discipline and smacks of making extra profit off the size of the book (as in the 19th century it was profitable to keep the serial episodes coming). My recent reading of Shalimar the Clown reinforces my opinion.
I have also expressed a related response to much of this fiction: since people and events in India are so foreign to much of the western world, western readers revel in stories about mundane events that would ordinarily be skimmed over as boring filler. I suggest that many Indian novels are best suited to the wire rack down at the Rexall with the Harlequin Romances and thrillers by Clive Cussler. But I don’t want to imply that all Indian literature is flawed, after all, we had our Charles Dickens; nor that shorter novels are better, we also had Hemingway. I am a huge advocate of reading the world’s literature and not just the local best-sellers: Indian literature represents a large part of the world and it shouldn’t be missed.
A few years ago I got the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Salman Rushdie and he was both impressive, approachable, funny, and at the same time consummately impressed with himself. I liked him. Rushdie’s reading list is a good place to go and make your own opinion of his prose style. This is the bibliography from Wikipedia:
- Grimus (1975)
- Midnight’s Children (1981)
- Shame (1983)
- The Satanic Verses (1988)
- The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995)
- The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)
- Fury (2001)
- Shalimar the Clown (2005)
- The Enchantress of Florence (2008)
- Homeless by Choice (1992, with R. Jhabvala and V. S. Naipaul)
- East, West (1994)
- The Best American Short Stories (2008, as Guest Editor)
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990)
- Luka and the Fire of Life (2010)
Essays and non-fiction
- The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987)
- “In Good Faith”, Granta, 1990
- Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981–1991 (1992)
- “The Wizard of Oz: BFI Film Classics”, BFI, 1992.
- “Mohandas Gandhi.” Time, 13 April 1998.
- “Imagine There Is No Heaven.” The Guardian, 16 October 1999.
- Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992–2002 (2002)
- “A fine pickle.” The Guardian, 28 February 2009.
- “In the South.” Booktrack, 7 February 2012