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Monday, June 22, 2009

Midnight's Children

Note: I feel bad about my lack of posts, so I'm hoping to quick blitz a bunch over the next few days. They will all be short and are shameless attempts to cover up the large gaps between my older posts from June and May.

I said on Twitter, (yes, I have a Twitter account, jeverett15 if you care to follow) that I didn't feel up to writing a review of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. Here's a shot anyway.

It took me about a month to read the book, because I had to detour to read Love in the Time of Cholera for a book club. But it would have taken a long time anyway, because the work is massive. Here is a sentence that I think will sum up my opinion of the novel:

Midnight's Children is clearly the work of a genius, but I don't know if he's a genius I'd ever care to read again.

There is a curious distance to the novel, in my humble, non-genius opinion. Rushdie knows what he's doing from the start. Throughout the novel he makes it clear that the plot is all worked out, that he has it figured out and you're just going to have to come along for the ride. But he also makes it abundantly clear through the personal deficiencies of his narrator Saleem Sinai that he doesn't care as much for the complex story he so effortlessly weaves as for the underlying statement about the nature of fiction and narrative itself. Thus there is a missing element in Midnight's Children, and I think that it is joy. Once you've caught on to Saleem's failures, the rest of the novel becomes an aggravating game of watching Rushdie finish out his pre-destined plot. The only surprise comes from his utter side-swiping of Indira Gandhi in the novel's last hundred pages or so. This feels less pre-ordained and more risky, and more frisky than the rest of the novel.

It would take a genius to write a book like Midnight's Children, but one that probably doesn't care too much about his readers. I don't care to grade Midnight's Children, and I'm not going to recommend it either.

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