I call it quits. ’50 Books You Have to Read!’ (paraphrasing from Buzzfeed) ‘Modern Library 100 Best Novels’: Amazon. Wait, what’s this? “If beating around the bush was a crime; then, Salman Rushdie would be charged with aggravated assault and attempt to murder of that bush.” A reader named Shayantani Das from Goodreads, a reader after my own heart.
I can’t do it, I can’t finish this book. I’m interested in India’s multi-cultured history right now and picked this out of a list (shaking my fist at Buzzfeed) to read. My first warning was a long rambling pretentious introduction to the book. I’m thinking: who is this? Not even my favorite authors have someone to spray-paint their poop gold in an introduction to their best novels. Unless they’re dead.
I ignored my instincts, skipped the intro, delved in. Dense, tangled, proper grammar-hating prose. Okay I’ve read literary styles that were initially difficult to get used to before, I proceeded. 200 pages in I have hardly imagery in my head of any kind except the grotesque (detailed descriptions of noses, moles like witchnippes (repeated about eight times), and constantly dripping mucous) which is all quite detailed. I wonder what kind of story this is. Will we get to a point? Many interesting and good details are bogged down with the weight of a ton of gibberish. The author constantly interrupts himself to tell us a tad bit about how he’s setting this history about himself down while struggling with age or something who knows. I have a constant nagging feeling that he’s pretty impressed with himself.
Most sections are prefaced in this manner: “And it was Monkey who, by answering a certain wrong-number telephone call, began the process of events which led to my accident in a white washing-chest made of slatted wood.” Sounds important right? No. It’s the four-thousandth sort of this kind of introduction to events that are so chock-filled with wordplay and confusion that whatever happens is far from momentous.
Am I making sense? Probably not. Here’s a likely passage, it’s typically long and usually without any intro to what he’s talking about, never fear he’ll sum it up later in long vast complicated passages where you really don’t have to know too much about what is happening:
“Melodrama piling upon melodrama; life acquiring the colouring of a Bombay talkie; snakes following ladders, ladders succeeding snakes; in the midst of too much incident, Baby Saleem fell ill. As if incapable of assimilating so many goings-on, he closed his eyes and became red and flushed. While Amina awaited the results of Ismail’s case against the State authorities; while the Brass Monkey grew in her womb; while Mary entered a state of shock from which she would fully emerge only when Joseph’s ghost returned to haunt her; while umbilical cord hung in pickle-jar and Mary’s chutneys filled our dreams with pointing fingers; while Reverend Mother ran the kitchens, my grandfather examined me and said, ‘I’m afraid there is no doubt; the poor lad has typhoid.’
Amazon informs me that this book is brilliant and I am too bourgeois to properly appreciate it. Yeah but I had to read this. A LOT of this (which goes on for several further pages), this particular passage takes place before his birth:
“Years ticking away – and my inheritance grows, because now I have the mythical golden teeth of the boatman Tai, and his brandy bottle which foretold my father’s alcoholic djinne; I have Ilse Lubin for suicide and pickled snakes for virility; I have Tai-for-changelessness opposed to Aadam-for-progress; and I have, too, the odours of the unwashed boatman which drove my grandparents south, and made Bombay a possibility.
…And now, driven by Padma and ticktock, I move on, acquiring Mahatma Gandhi and his hartal, ingesting thumb-and-forefinger, swallowing the moment at which Aadam Aziz did not know whether he was Kashmiri or Indian; now I’m drinking Mercurochrome and stains the shape of hands which will recur in spilt betel-juice, and I’m gulping down Dyer, mustache and all; and my grandfather is saved by his nose and a bruised appears on his chest, never to fade, so that he and I find in its ceaseless throbbing the answer to the question, Indian or Kashmiri? Staned by the bruise of a Heidelberg bag’s clasp, we throw our lot in with India; bu the alienness of blue eyes remains. Tai dies, but his magic hangs over us still, and makes us men apart.”
The problem is not just the style but that this nonsense is repeated continually. I know what some of it means, and I was faithful to all the punctuation. Between all of this is some plot, which is fine, and I know it’s saying a lo of what we are is carried over before our birth, shaped by our parents and their parents before them, but I’m giving up. Am I just really bad at high-brow literature? You make the call.